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ciitedby Daniel Miller 

Anthropology and the Individual 

Materializing Culture 

Series Editors: Paul Gilroy and Daniel Miller 

Barbara Bender, Stonehenge: Making Space 

Gen Doy, Materializing Art History 

Laura Rival (ed.), The Social Life of Trees: Anthropological Perspectives on Tree 

Victor Buchli, An Archaeology of Socialism 

Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsley (eds), Material 
Memories: Design and Evocation 

Penny Van Esterik, Materializing Thailand 

Michael Bull, Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management 
of Everyday Life 

Anne Massey, Hollywood beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture 

Wendy Joy Darby, Landscape and Identity: Geographies of Nation and Class 
in England 

Joy Hendry, The Orient Strikes Back: A Global View of Cultural Display 

Judy Attfield, Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life 

Daniel Miller (ed.), Car Cultures 

Elizabeth Edwards, Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums 

David E. Sutton, Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food 
and Memory 

Eleana Yalouri, The Acropolis: Global Fame, Local Claim 

Elizabeth Hallam and Jenny Hockey, Death, Memory and Material Culture 

Sharon Macdonald, Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum 

Elaine Lally, At Home with Computers 

Susanne Kiichler, Malanggan: Art, Memory and Sacrifice 

Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe, Second-hand Cultures 

Merl Storr, Latex and Lingerie 

Lynn Meskell, Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt: Material Biographies Past 
and Present 

Sophie Woodward, Why Women Wear What They Wear 

Anthropology and the Individual 
A Material Culture Perspective 

Edited by 
Daniel Miller 


Oxford • New York 

First published in 2009 by 


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First Floor, Angel Court, 81 St Clements Street, Oxford OX4 1AW, UK 

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© Daniel Miller 2009 

All rights reserved. 

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A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 

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ISBN 978 1 84788 495 4 (Cloth) 
ISBN 978 1 84788 494 7 (Paper) 

Typeset by Apex CoVantage, LLC, Madison, WI, USA 
Printed in the UK by the MPG Books Group 


List of Illustrations vii 

Notes on Contributors ix 

Introduction 1 

1 Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order 3 
Daniel Miller 

2 Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual 25 
Magdalena Craciun 

3 'Making Things Come Out': Design, Originality 

and the Individual in a Bogolan Artisan Community 37 

Bodil Birkebcek Olesen 

4 Building and Ordering Transnationalism: The 'Greek House' 

in Albania as a Material Process 51 

Dimitris Dalakoglou 

5 The Christian and the Taxi Driver: Poverty and Aspiration 

in Rural Jamaica 69 

Daniel Miller 

6 How Madrid Creates Individuals 83 
Marjorie Murray 

7 Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations 99 
Heather A. Horst 

8 Unmaking Family Relationships: Belgrade Mothers 

and Their Migrant Children 115 

Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic 

9 Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity 

among Yoruba Women in London 131 

Julie Botticello 


vi • Contents 

10 Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba 145 
Anna Pertierra 

11 Food, Family, Art and God: Aesthetic Authority 

in Public Life in Trinidad 159 

Gabrielle Hosein 

Index 179 

List of Illustrations 

Figures Page 

3.1 A schematic rendition of a piece of cloth and its patterns, 

consisting of five pieces of strip-cloth. 42 

3.2 An example of how stencils circulate between workshops, 

and kinsmen and neighbours. 43 

3.3 Another example of how stencils circulate between workshops, 

and kinsmen and neighbours. 44 

3.4 An example of innovation-through-copying. 45 

3.5 Koti's model, made shortly after Hawa finished the model 

depicted in Figure 3.4. 45 

4.1 The coffee-table in the home in Athens. 54 

4.2 An identical table as sofra in the home in Albania. 54 

4.3 The table moved in front of the sofa where we are sitting. 55 

4.4 The 'Greek house' in Albania. 57 

4.5 The swimming pool and the vegetable garden. 61 

6.1 Madrid's Metro tunnel from the train. 93 

6.2 Innocent boy in a bar. 94 

7.1 Ann's desk and bulletin board. 102 

7.2 Ann's bedroom, one week before leaving for college. 103 

7.3 Ann checking her Facebook page. 106 

8.1 Kitchen in Vladimir's house. 119 

8.2 A detail from Vladimir's room. 119 

9.1 An England flag worn as a head scarf during the 2006 World Cup. 137 

9.2 Fellow market workers, adorned in red gele, assemble their 

dollars to engage in the spraying. 140 

11.1 The line of legitimacy. 163 

11.2 One woman, one vote. 165 

11.3 Higher authority. 166 

11.4 King of the Road. 170 

-V!! - 

Notes on Contributors 

Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Weber Programme, Euro- 
pean University Institute. 

Julie Botticello is an Honorary Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, 
University College London. 

Magdalena Craciun is a PhD student, Department of Anthropology, University 
College London. 

Dimitrios Dalakoglou is a Lecturer in Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, 
University of Sussex. 

Heather A. Horst is Associate Project Scientist, Humanities Research Institute, Uni- 
versity of California. 

Gabrielle Hosein is a lecturer at The Centre for Gender and Development Studies, 
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. 

Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture, Department of Anthropology, Uni- 
versity College London. 

Marjorie Murray is a Lecturer in Anthropology, Department of Sociology, Pontifi- 
cia Universidad Catolica de Chile. 

Bodil Birkebaek Olesen is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropol- 
ogy, Aarhus University, Denmark. 

Anna Pertierra is a Research Fellow in The Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, 
University of Queensland. 



Unlike most social science books about the individual, this volume is not concerned 
with individualism or with the way different societies conceptualize individuals. Be- 
cause, irrespective of whether people live within a highly individualizing or a highly 
socialized environment, we still have the task of understanding them as individuals. 
Furthermore anthropologists, in particular, commonly convey their findings through 
the presentation of individuals who were encountered during fieldwork. 

Using the perspective of material culture, the contributors to this volume cre- 
ate a highly original approach to our understanding of the individual. We start by 
appropriating anthropological perspectives that were first developed for the study 
of society and show how these can be adopted for the study of individuals. The 
intention is to move beyond both an opposition between individual and society, 
and also beyond the tendency to use the individual as the minimal exemplification 
of an entity we term 'society'. Instead we recognize how we have to keep focused 
simultaneously on the larger institutions of kinship, political economy and the state 
and also on the individual persons that live within and through these. 

We achieve this through our analysis of what this volume identifies as an aesthetic 
of order that may be derived from various relationships. These may be relationships 
to objects — such as cars, houses and cloth; to places — such as social networking 
sites on the Internet or a city; to relationships — such as to parents or community, or 
to larger discourses — such as that of struggle, or fairness. The configuration of such 
an order may be found both at the level of society but, as this volume shows, also 
integrated at the level of an individual's sense of himself or herself and his or her 
world. This approach also makes explicit what is conveyed when we use the lives of 
individuals to make claims and generalizations about society. The book thereby con- 
tributes an original perspective on individuals that is distinctly anthropological rather 
than psychological. Examples range from Istanbul, London and Madrid to Albania, 
Cuba, Jamaica, Mali, Serbia and Trinidad. 


Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order 

Daniel Miller 

A Starting Point 

This volume represents the collective construction of a specifically anthropological 
approach to a question at the heart of all social science. How should we simultane- 
ously account for both society and for individuals? Unlike most social science books 
about the individual, this volume is not concerned with individualism nor with the 
way different societies conceptualize individuals. Because, irrespective of whether 
people live within a highly individualizing or a highly socialized environment, we 
still have the task of understanding them as individuals. Furthermore anthropolo- 
gists, in particular, commonly convey their findings through the presentation of in- 
dividuals who were encountered during fieldwork. So this volume is not especially 
concerned with the study of individualism, nor with the growth of individualism. 1 
The understanding of the individual is something that should be part and parcel of 
the domain of anthropology even when we are working in a society which seems al- 
most entirely opposed to individualism. We would repudiate an artificial disciplinary 
history that left social science concerned with that aspect of society that transcended 
its composition by individuals and ceded to psychology the study of the individual 
per se. This book creates an approach to people that is no more psychological, and 
no less anthropological, through a decision to concentrate on the individual as its 
primary unit of analysis. 

The means by which this is accomplished is through a deliberate and systematic 
appropriation of anthropological models that were originally designed, not for the 
study of individuals, but as approaches to an encompassing view of society. Tradi- 
tionally, in social science, these two have been opposed, as a rise of individualism 
in modern life was seen as the deposition of the larger social order represented by 
the terms society and culture. Our discovery was that approaches created by anthro- 
pologists for the purpose of contending with society turn out to be singularly and 
unexpectedly appropriate for the study of the individual. So that instead of abandon- 
ing those perspectives, we can appropriate them and apply them to this other terrain. 
In doing so we employ what has become recently one of the vanguard elements in 
contemporary anthropology, the study of material culture. 


4 • Anthropology and the Individual 

This will by no means be a single or uniform appropriation. In this introduction 
I will take the most extreme view, suggesting that in a place such as London, the 
application of this perspective to the individual becomes tantamount to the study of 
culture as an aggregate of these micro units of society, at least with respect to some 
forms of behaviour. As befits a situation where all the other contributors have studied 
with me, the rest of the chapters in this volume all take issue, in some way or other, 
with my argument and contest it or transform it through its application to quite dif- 
ferent circumstances, providing alternatives, and contrasting variants. Either because 
the situation they are confronted with is very different from that found in London 
(as I also argue in a further chapter within this volume, set in Jamaica) or because 
they remain unconvinced by particular aspects of my own argument. So the volume 
is constructed in dialectical tension between the introduction and the subsequent 

The approach that will be used to illustrate this argument is derived from one of 
the most established and influential anthropological models of cultural order, that 
of Pierre Bourdieu and his concept of habitus. Students of material culture, which 
include all the contributors to this volume, are particularly beholden to Bourdieu, be- 
cause in his book Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977), the main process of social- 
ization into becoming a member of any given society was the everyday association 
with practical taxonomies embodied in the order of material culture. From Bour- 
dieu we learnt how individuals become a typical Kwakiutl, Trobriand Islander or 
New Yorker through habits and expectations fostered in our everyday object world. 
Through catching salmon or catching taxis. The best-known example employed by 
Bourdieu was the organization of space in the houses of the Kabyle, a Berber com- 
munity. The systematic oppositions found in the internal order of the house were 
seen as an underlying structure that gave people their unconscious expectations of 
the order they anticipate in many different aspects of their lives. These underlying 
structures of order became second nature, that is taken-for-granted habits, that could 
apply equally to agricultural tasks, meal times, the body or kinship. 

This work carried the further implication that although patterns of objects were 
thereby central to constituting social order, equivalent in many respects to our en- 
tire educational system, their contribution was entirely unacknowledged. This cor- 
responded to what I (Miller 1987) elsewhere called 'The Humility of Objects' — the 
ability of material things to establish the frame for proper behaviour without us notic- 
ing that they inhabit this powerful role. I argued that objects performed a task central 
to what Goffman (1975) and Gombrich (1979) in different ways termed Framing — 
that which orders life and behaviour without our being aware of it. 

For Bourdieu this process is effective because in each area of life this underlying 
structure of order remains homologous to the others. People are socialized into ha- 
bitus through the habits of everyday life, and reproduce it in their own creations be- 
cause culture is best understood as practice. So unlike its psychological equivalents, 
this does not need to be viewed as a cognitive model. It exists tangibly in the order 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 5 

of the material world people inhabit. While anthropologists were most influenced 
by Bourdieu's application of these ideas to the Kabyle, those in other disciplines 
were enthralled by his exemplification of these same processes in the book Dis- 
tinction (1979) which examined the order of French society in the 1960s. Bourdieu 
argued that there was a foundational structural opposition in French society that cor- 
responded to class. At one end of the spectrum were those who preferred the taste 
of foods that were substantial, the opinions of particular newspapers and saw Holy 
Communion as the obvious subject for a painting. At the other end were those who 
had a more minimalist aestheticized approach to food and saw more artistic potential 
in a car crash. So, amongst both the Kabyle and the French, there were structural op- 
positions that were productive, in the sense of basic, to the ordering of society. 

Distinction neatly demonstrated Bourdieu's insistence upon the virtue of a larger 
structural understanding of French culture and society in opposition to starting from 
the perspective of the individual. As he noted, the very term 'taste', was taken col- 
loquially to represent the specifics of an individual's preferences in the world. Yet, in 
his analysis, he shows how taste actually derives from the highly structured condi- 
tions of French class and hierarchy, and is anything but the mere quirky predilection 
of individuals. Aesthetic preferences thereby exemplify, not individualism, but its 
opposite, the original holistic tradition of anthropology. People are situated within a 
general cosmology, as much evident in their kinship and social structure, in the form 
of exchange and economic orders, as in their beliefs and religion. 2 

Bourdieu was by no means the only exemplar of this holistic tradition. It is im- 
plicit in the very notion and structure of the traditional anthropological monograph, 
and its long commitment to various forms of structural-functionalism. Similarly 
Clifford Geertz (1973, 1980) could discern a distinctive Balinese aesthetic disposi- 
tion that could apply as much to statehood as to dance. A typical monograph on an 
African pastoral society or on Chinese lineage would often link relationships with 
food to ritual or demonstrate the homology between kinship and village, or indeed 
urban, planning. Sometimes the academic discerns a pattern that is one of a single 
and overall consistency within and across domains. At other times, as in the work of 
Levi-Strauss or Bourdieu's Distinction, it is a holism based on systematic opposition, 
inversion or contrast. Indeed so common is this trope within anthropology that when, 
in other disciplines, such as where the Annales school of French historical analysis 
treated past societies as quasi ethnographies to examine consistency between cos- 
mology, economy and social order, then the analysis comes to feel anthropological 
to the degree that it is structurally holistic (e.g. Le Roy Ladurie 1978). 

In this context, the study of the individual seems reduced to that of the micro- 
cosm that exemplifies the macrocosm, or alternatively the dualism that is society. 
We see the individual as exemplifying the precise position he or she holds in society 
and reproducing at this scale the same sense of order and expectation we recognize 
as that of the society as a whole. A person is his or her place in the overall picture, 
as is appropriate to his or her categorization, for example by gender or class. Almost 

6 • Anthropology and the Individual 

as though they each generate and reproduce some larger societal DNA or cultural 
code. This academic tradition became so established and hegemonic that inevitably 
it led eventually to an almost violent repudiation. A new post-modernist perspec- 
tive arose that denounced any implied structural analysis or holism. Post-modernism 
tried to blow apart this sense of order and refused to see people as any more than the 
aggregation of fragments. The post-modern assault was generally coincidental with 
an ever more confident liberalism which saw itself as triumphant over older more 
holistic political traditions such as socialism. Post-modernism has therefore had a 
longer lasting impact in the United States which remains far more deeply imbued 
with a spirit of liberalism and emphasis upon individuals as compared to the more 
collectively orientated European tradition (Lindholm 1997). 

The problem with this history of academic studies is that in many respects it 
neglects what should have been a core question from the very inception of scholarly 
interest in society. A question that is sidelined when we start from an opposition be- 
tween the individual and society, or a subsumption of the individual as mere micro- 
cosm to society, or a refusal to accept the existence of either society or individuals 
as in post-modernism. Instead, we might take as our starting point the coincidence 
and compatibility of the individual and society, where society is understood as an 
entity that transcends its aggregate composition by individuals and remains irreduc- 
ible to them. Individuals still live in society, society always included individuals. 
The more important question therefore was how these two exist in tandem. If the 
individual is more than the microcosm of the macrocosm then what is the precise 
relationship between these two entities? Where do we find evidence for this rela- 
tionship and how may we reveal it? These are the questions the current volume 
seeks to investigate. 


In this section I will represent the most extreme application of our ideas based on 
the specific conditions of working in London. In the subsequent section I will show 
how the other contributors contest and expand upon these observations and lead us 
towards a more generally applicable model for an anthropology of the individual. 
This initial extreme view corresponds to an appropriation of the word 'aesthetic' 
to the study of people in households. 3 On three occasions I have carried out studies 
based on London streets. The second of these was a study of how people use material 
culture to deal with loss. Since a street is effectively a juxtaposition of unrelated resi- 
dencies, the unit of analysis has to start from each individual household, quite often 
simply an individual. While discussing these various cases I found that, in conversa- 
tion with Fiona Parrott, the co-researcher on this project, I was making increasing 
use of the word aesthetic to describe the underlying order that seemed to pertain to 
each of the hundred cases that we researched. 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 1 

Subsequently I wrote The Comfort of Things (Miller 2008) which tried to convey, 
through the portraits of thirty of these individuals and households, what the term 'aes- 
thetic' might mean in this context. One of the reasons for choosing to work on a street 
was my dissatisfaction with the way social science treated people as tokens of larger 
social descriptors, which is implied in the model of microcosm and macrocosm. In 
most urban research undertaken by social science a person is selected for study be- 
cause he or she is, for example a woman, or working class, or Somali. But a street in 
South London represented an unprecedented exemplification of an alternative mod- 
ern condition. Only 23 per cent of the hundred households we worked with were born 
in London, and in many cases the household itself consisted of people from entirely 
different backgrounds who had met and become partners in London. Bourdieu wrote 
books about the Kabyle and different books about the French. But on this street it 
was entirely possible that one would encounter a Kabyle married to a Parisian. 

The temptation would be to regard a Kabyle married to a Parisian as either a hy- 
brid between two holistic forms, or as illustrative of post-modern fragmentation and 
the end of holistic order. But The Comfort of Things shows that these people did not 
appear as either fragmented or disordered. In many ways they were just as redolent 
of order and even holism as in previous researches I had been involved in, whether 
in India, the Solomon Islands or Trinidad. They also clearly lived in society with its 
cultural orders. Most prior studies of London streets by social scientists had refused 
to let go of the apparent requirement to see society only in larger entities. The street 
was judged by its relationship to the neighbourhood or community. But in London it 
is increasingly clear that this is false, as these households were radically unconnected 
with either community or neighbourhood. But, apart from some older isolated males, 
there was no particular sense of alienation or anomie; both presupposed by holistic 
traditions of social analysis, as conditions which follow in the absence of these wider 
relationships of belonging. Yet they also didn't particularly identify with London or 
the United Kingdom, so that the more recent emphasis in social science upon identity 
seemed equally inappropriate. 

The aim of The Comfort of Things was therefore not to examine what people no 
longer were, but to emphasize instead what they had become. These people presented 
with an internal logic and complex cultural order that still needed to be accounted 
for. In these studies of individuals and households, just as in traditional studies of 
societies, I could discern homologies between the underlying order present in differ- 
ent genres. Both material genres such as music, ornaments, clothing, cooking and 
photography, and also social genres such as parent-child relations, couple formation 
and break up, individual's relation to work or to pets. The term 'aesthetic' emerged 
as a shorthand for describing this internal consistency and order. It had no pretension 
to any art terminology or judgement of beauty per se. But it did imply that there were 
issues of harmony, balance and contrast in this order. 

The argument can be briefly illustrated through a precis of two of the cases that 
appear in The Comfort of Things. Malcolm's work fluctuates between Australia and 

8 • Anthropology and the Individual 

the United Kingdom, but what he understands as his permanent address is his email, 
and the nearest thing to home is his laptop. Both his friendships and his work are 
largely organized by email, a place he constantly orders, returns to, cares for and 
where in many respects 'his head is'. But to understand the intensity of this relation- 
ship to his laptop, we need to read the anthropologist Fred Myers (1986). Myers 
notes that for many Aboriginal groups there is a tradition of avoiding the physical 
possessions of the deceased. Malcolm's mother was Australian Aboriginal and most 
of her possessions were indeed destroyed at her death. But he inherited from her a 
mission to locate and preserve the history of his family, including those once taken 
away from their parents. As he sees it, too much Aboriginal history is viewed as 
lying in police records, he wants a proper archive he will deposit in an Australian 
state archive. 

Malcolm has an antipathy to things. He has given most of his inherited or child- 
hood objects away. In his devotion to immateriality he prefers anything digital. He 
is getting into digital photographs, he downloads music and immediately throws out 
the covers. Very unusually for the street, he even gives away his books after he has 
read them. One could relate this to his mobility, one could relate it to his interest in 
the potential of new technologies, one could relate it to this Aboriginal inheritance. 
There is more. His father sold antiques but the result was that as soon as he started 
becoming attached to things in his childhood, they would be sold, another possible 
source of his detachment from things. So his personal habitus could be described 
as overdetermined in the sense of multiple causation. Even he can't decide how 
much his mobility is cause or effect. But the overall result, as he puts it, is that T 
think I've set myself up to be out of touch with objects and things.' He has a more 
ambiguous relation to less tangible things like documents, sorting both his mother's 
and his own things into neat box files. But his real identification is with digital 
forms. He constantly updates and sorts his emails, which becomes the updating of 
his social relationships. In going through them he recalls all those friends he owes 
emails to. 

One could try and stretch the Aboriginal inheritance: the laptop as a kind of digi- 
tal dreamtime that connects current relationships with those of the dead, a place he 
comes in and out of, as more real than merely real life. He retains this intense con- 
cern with lineage, devoting much of his time to creating order out of kinship history. 
He seems obsessed that if he were to die, that thanks to constantly sorting his emails, 
he would leave a legacy that was archived and up to date, so no one would have to do 
the work he did recovering and ordering his ancestral lives. But for my purpose what 
he typifies is first the multiple determination of his cosmology. Father, mother and 
his work come together as possible explanations. One could not claim to have pre- 
dicted him, but given what we now know, this relationship to his laptop, that at first 
seemed so bizarre, can certainly make sense. It is an aesthetic, a material cosmology. 
We need to understand cosmological issues that pertain to Australian Aboriginal life, 
but this alone could hardly have given us Malcolm. 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 9 

The second example, Charlotte, exemplifies the self-construction of the inalien- 
able as a consistent material ontology. She has systematically carried out a very large 
number of piercings followed by a series of tattoos, and simultaneously developed a 
clear philosophy of how these acts of self-construction contribute to her understand- 
ing of, above all, her control over her own life. She exemplifies both the vertical and 
horizontal dimensions. The vertical dimension starts once again from her relation- 
ship to her mother. This is not a simple repudiation, it was her mother's friend who 
first introduced her to piercing at the age of eleven. But she then appropriates this as a 
means of distancing. For example, when her mother said, 'Oh, but you're just trying 
to be the same as everyone else', she responded by searching out the most extreme 
and different piercings that for her said (her words), 'I've got a piercing, but not be- 
cause everyone else has that, but because nobody does, actually.' 

From this came her desire to establish complete mastery over memory itself. She 
established a Active relationship to her past. Although born in London, she associ- 
ates herself completely with the country of origin of her lover. She has mastered the 
accent, had a flat built for her to move to when she has qualified, and was already 
tattooing designs from that country before ever visiting it. As a lesbian she also 
feels that her sexuality is something she chooses and controls. Control for her means 
objectifying memory as a thing one can choose to attach to or detach from the self. 
Every piercing represents a specific memory. Life consists of accumulating happy 
memories that are objectified in this way. So even if she is embarrassed by chasing 
boy bands as a teenager, the memorabilia is retained as something 'happy at the 
time'. Key piercings and then tattoos represent her best relationships. 

With regard to the horizontal, Charlotte carefully considers the precise material- 
ity of each genre within which memory can be objectified. There is clothing she can 
throw away. Piercings have a potential transience, for example when she moved to 
another part of London she says T took out a lot of my bottom rings, so at that stage, 
and I think that was probably because I had left a lot of rubbish and a lot of people 
that were not doing me any good, like old memories behind, so I didn't need it any 
more.' Abandoned rings from piercings are kept in a box, photographs of piercings 
and tattoos on her back allow her to recall a memory, but can't be as easily accessed 
as those she can look at when on the move. The placing matters, as with nipple 
piercing — viewed as the position closest to her heart. Each material form is used to 
extend and complement the others. 

It is the tattoos that establish the full possibilities of the inalienable. They ensure 
that memories of the best relationships can never be excised. These include her re- 
lationship to the tattooist, a close friend who is practising on Charlotte to obtain her 
professional qualification; and her relationship to her lover, through their having 
identical tattoos. The memory is precise. Unlike others she will never have supple- 
mentary tattooing, since this blurs the relationship to the particular time the tattoo 
was created. She thereby works out a material technology of inalienable memory. 
She can't understand people who tattoo for pattern itself rather than to establish the 

10 • Anthropology and the Individual 

inalienable. She starts from an awareness of people such as her grandfather who 
lived to regret the tattoos of their youth, yet now has complete confidence in her cur- 
rent total leg tattooing. She does understand the logic of those who tattoo a cross for 
a deceased love one, but remains consistent to her own systematic accretion of happy 
memories and relationships. 

Charlotte is not then just another person who does piercings and tattoos. In her 
early twenties she has a systematic cosmology of memory and obj edification. This 
allows us to see the analogy between the study of the individual and society. I have 
used the term 'inalienable' in my description of Charlotte, a term which is reminis- 
cent of the centrality of inalienable material culture to the work of the anthropologist 
Annette Weiner. In her book Inalienable Objects (1992) Weiner studied the material 
culture of the Maori, and the famous Kula ring as participated in by the Trobriand 
Islands, best known from the work of Malinowski (1922). Weiner's starting point 
is that in contrast to many previous anthropological studies of exchange, there are 
certain forms of material culture that are profound objectifications of society itself, 
objects whose presence and constancy helps society to constitute itself as transcen- 
dent to individuals. These objects are inalienable because they cannot form part of 
exchange or be given away. Much of her interest is in the different capacity of objects 
to represent the inalienable, that bones, stones and cloaks lend themselves to differ- 
ent qualities. Cloth, for example, being ambiguous in its symbolism, as a second 
skin, is good for mediating the transition from human to larger cultural reproduction, 
as Henare (2005) has shown for the idea of Maori weaving ancestors together. These 
might contrast with, for example stone. 

Weiner was unusual though in that she also conceded the role of similar pro- 
cesses of objectifi cation to individuals as well as society. The term 'society' here 
may indicate the greater authority of social hierarchy, that is taonga the power of 
this inalienabilty that enhances chiefly power, or the authority of the sacred; what 
Weiner calls cosmological authentification. But it can also connote a commitment 
to one relationship (Weiner 1991: 54). Because in some cases there is quite a bit of 
contingency and personalization surrounding this taonga of objects. They may rep- 
resent a particular chief or warrior, have individual names, be inherited by individ- 
ual recipients, or be buried with a particular person. So in Weiner's work we come 
to recognize a quality of a material object — its potential inalienability. This may be 
employed to give sacred power to a sense of society that transcends individuals. But 
that same quality of inalienability can also be employed as the means by which an 
object personalizes an individual. 

Weiner thereby provides a route from more traditional anthropology to the study 
of Charlotte, who has seen for herself that it is possible to exploit the different ca- 
pacities of genres of material culture to represent inalienability and used this to con- 
stitute herself. It is hardly surprising that people show the same creative capacity 
in forming new processes of obj edification that we see in our comparative study 
of societies. Objects too transcend these different registers from the more general 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 11 

to more specific. In another house, there lies on a bookshelf, grandfather's tin from 
the First World War. By now though this tin simultaneously represents the specific 
grandfather, England and history itself. 

It follows from these observations that instead of seeing individuals in opposi- 
tion to society, there was a possibility of regarding each individual or household as 
somehow analogous to that of a society. That we could appropriate those methods, 
developed over decades for the study of societies, and now employ them in the study 
of the individual. That both the holism and order once assumed to be properties of 
society might also be found at this level, and not necessarily because the individual 
was the microcosm to a larger macrocosm. In the vast majority of households there 
was very little sense that their aesthetic, that is the internal integrity of order within 
material culture and other relationships, owed very much at all to anything one could 
recognize as cultural traditions such as Kabyle or French. 

I don't wish to exaggerate. In some cases there was evidence for the kinds of cul- 
tural transmission familiar from more conventional anthropology: the way an Irish 
couple organized their lives in a manner that corresponded to older Irish traditions. 
Even in their case, however, the result had an unprecedented and particular character 
as a result of living in London. A similar point could be made about family and pa- 
rental influence. Often important — whether through systematic rejection or system- 
atic reproduction — but rarely entirely determinant. Parental and cultural traditions 
joined with many other influences to produce what emerge as relatively unique con- 
figurations. This occurs under conditions within London that may be unprecedented, 
where households are granted a degree of privacy to more or less make themselves 
up as they go along. As I have argued elsewhere, they may also be subject to aston- 
ishing generalizations that transcend these differences (e.g. Miller 1998) but in The 
Comfort of Things it was the combination of internal holism and order set against the 
overall diversity of London that was emphasized. 

Contra London 

The other contributors of this volume either did not work in London, or as in the case 
of Bajic and Botticello, who worked with Diaspora populations, saw London from 
a very different perspective. Yet all of them share other concerns which lead us to a 
common focus on the issue of the individual in society. Firstly, all the chapters de- 
rive from ethnography carried out in accordance with the traditions of anthropologi- 
cal research. Most have a commitment to the study of material culture specifically 
through ethnographic methods. Although the chapters by Pertierra and Hosein are 
not employing this perspective, they share the underlying influence of Bourdieu's 
approach to the role of external forms of cultural order as socialization, which is at 
the core of this volume's contribution. All the chapters other than Olesen are also 
marked by an increasing use of individuals in the reportage of ethnography. While 

12 • Anthropology and the Individual 

we retain our attachment to theory, there is desire to rescue this from the more ob- 
fuscating accretions to which it became subject over the last two decades and which 
tended to obscure our relationship to the people we work with. While this volume is 
committed to theoretical developments in the analysis of individuals, we also want 
to place in the foreground the role of informants in our ethnography and in our de- 
sire to convey these ethnographic experiences and results. Many of these chapters 
concentrate on one or two key informants who have played a major role in our eth- 
nographic work. We hope there is an integrity implied in acknowledging this, and in 
turn giving them a more prominent role in the presentation of our work. 

While the emphasis upon a key informant may arise as a desire to respect the 
realities of ethnography when writing up a thesis or article, it leads to the same set 
of issues. We are still confronted with questions about how the presentation of an 
individual stands for generalizations about a society within an ethnographic mono- 
graph. Hockey (2002) recently argued that, in situations such as urban Britain, the 
interview should not be regarded as a poor second best to participant observation, 
or a microcosm of society as a bounded unit. In some respects the interview comes 
closer to the occasional and disembodied partial presences that are the reality of 
modern urban life. This observation rings true for the research used in The Comfort 
of Things which is probably more interview based than any of the ethnographies 
presented here. But the other chapters represent different situations which may have 
different consequences. 

Typically, in their more extensive writings, such as the PhD thesis, the contribu- 
tors to this volume start some of their chapters with an extended example of one 
individual who stands for those generalizations with which the chapter is concerned. 
They then follow this with shorter extracts from other individuals that represent dif- 
ferent possibilities, or caveats to emergent generalizations. This is a heuristic device 
that attempts to address the same contradiction which occurs when we are simul- 
taneously trying to convey something about society and the individuals who live 
within them. But this is generally implicit. In this volume we make the relationship 

We achieve this goal by concentrating on a middle ground between the extremes 
of specificity and generality. This may be found in the order that is discernible both 
for individuals and external to them. It has been introduced as the concept of an 
aesthetic. The point is that we are not simply telling a story about a person. The indi- 
vidual is used analytically to display a pattern of relationships that convey a sense of 
the cultural order the person lives by. The inferred relationship is between that order 
and the analytical order we implicate in presenting a society as a cultural formation. 
We can see the mediation between these two when that order is also apparent in ex- 
ternal forms. In these chapters it may appear as the way a house is decorated, a cloth 
is designed, a person is expected to dress for a party or as a Pentecostal Christian, or 
behave in relation to gaining a livelihood or going out into the city at night. When the 
order is found in genres of objects we come close to Bourdieu's original observations 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 13 

on the way an individual inculcates that order through practical taxonomies of ac- 
tion. But we do not restrict ourselves to conventional material culture, because this 
order may be located in other relationships. These may be relationships to place, 
to persons, to the state and to discourse. They are the mechanisms that, in practice, 
bring alignment between the order we discern at the level of the individual and the 
order we discern at the level of society. What becomes evident in this volume is that 
in each setting different sources of order come to stand out as more or less significant 
in the formation also of individuals. 

This allows us to discern a relationship between the individual and society that 
does not rest on an opposition between the two, or on being seen as mere microcosm 
of the macrocosm. Rather we see that individuals themselves represent a form of 
order in the world, and this emerges out of a creative and partial appropriation of the 
possibilities in the wider order around them. But what is very clear in these chapters 
is that the term 'appropriation' should not be reduced to some simple act of free will. 
It has almost always just as much to do with constraint, as with choice, with lack of 
power, as with creativity. The following chapters are organized in a sequence that 
starts with an emphasis upon objects, then moves to relationships to place, to persons 
and finally to the state. Even within the first section that concentrates on relation- 
ships to objects, we find considerable variation between relatively free appropriation 
as in Craciun's chapter and considerable constraint in Olesen's chapter. Similar is- 
sues and comparable variations in the way people respond to the order and authority 
embodied in the state are noted in the chapters by Pertierra and Hosein. Even in 
Horst's paper on Californian youth the context is one of authority and constraint. 

There is one final relationship between the individual and collective to be con- 
sidered. This volume, as several precedents, arises out of a tradition in which we all 
took part. This comprises a monthly 'drinking group' 4 during which pre-circulated 
draft chapters are read and commented upon by all those represented here. So, unlike 
many edited volumes, there is an organic process behind this volume that arises from 
a conversation between participating academics over several years. The connotations 
of a 'drinking group' is one that favours critical dialogue rather than mere adherence 
to a common position. This in turn produces the diversity of these contributions; 
each concerned ultimately to use any insights from this conversation in the further 
understanding of the particular conditions of their own research project. 

The first chapter by Craciun concerns Firlama, a trader in the Istanbul bazaar. He 
is an individual whose life only makes sense when we appreciate the way he uses 
a specific genre of material culture — the fake brand — as his primary instrument for 
self-objectification. It is the fake brand that allows him to construct a life devoted to 
the play between respectability and subterfuge, conformity and illegality. From her 
close reading of this relationship comes an observation echoed in many subsequent 
chapters. The roots to this trajectory lie in treating his life as a whole, especially his 
early relationship to his parents and to his schooling. These create the causes of his 
ambivalence, but it is his personal discovery of a propensity in this particular form 

14 • Anthropology and the Individual 

of material culture, the fake brand, that provides him with an ideal mirror through 
which he comes to see and understand the contradictions of his own life. This is not 
some dry metaphor. Firlama constantly celebrates the exhilaration and fullness of life 
that has been generated by this commitment to a small disruption in the overarch- 
ing landscape of capitalism. As in many cases in The Comfort of Things, one might 
never have predicted Firlama, but in retrospect one can make sense of his personal 
aesthetic. The word is appropriate because this life is a play: part tragic, part comic, 
part glorious insistency, upon what a life devoted to fake brands can come to repre- 
sent within the modern world. The result is a sense of balance that occurs at many 
points, in many chapters in this volume, all the way through to the final chapter by 
Hosein who makes balance the subject of her contribution. Only in her case the bal- 
ance between legality and illegality is that represented, not by an individual, so much 
as the consensual construction of 'fairness'. 

There is a clear and striking contrast between Craciun and Olesen despite the fact 
that they are both concerned with cloth. This contrast forms a parameter along which 
the other chapters find their niche. Firlama crafts his life as a form of individualized 
creativity. But in the much more tightly socialized environment of Mali, people see 
creativity not as a simple expression of the individual, but as precisely that which de- 
termines the constraints on the degree to which individuals are permitted to interpret 
normative order. Again this is a common theme to many of the subsequent chapters. 
Olesen shows that none of our terms, such as 'originality', or even 'design', trans- 
late easily into a context where things are categorized in very different ways. We 
have a very clear idea of what copying means in relation to originality and design. 
The trouble is that the people Olesen studied have entirely different ideas about the 
meaning and implication of a copy. They see difference where we might see same- 
ness and sameness where we might assume significant difference. But what matters 
more, is how, just as the fake brand objectifies a particular individual in Istanbul, so 
here the process of motif creation objectifies what these people understand by the 
very concept of an individual. Olesen thereby shows clearly how it is possible to 
have alternatives to the usual opposition between individual and society. For her, as 
in the work of Strathern (1988), and in Bajic's chapter, both individual and society 
are formed out of an aesthetic of relationships or relational ontology. But this is most 
clearly seen through detailed observation of this cloth and its associated innovation- 

The chapter by Dalakoglou neatly bridges between this emphasis upon the object 
as objectification and the source of order in space and place. Taking as his starting 
point the situation of mobility, he finds that the same object, the house, has to con- 
front its differentiation by context, since a Greek house in Albania is quite different 
from a Greek house in Greece. One of the commonalities between these three chap- 
ters, which we can link back to Bourdieu, is the emphasis upon practice. Objects 
work as objectifications best when they are constantly being constructed. Each of 
these three chapters is also about people making a living — out of fake goods, out of 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 15 

designs on cloth, out of building houses. It is this which makes such objects central 
to their lives. In this case Fatos, Dalakoglou's informant, works out the permutations 
of his own identity around a house where the very terminology becomes an instru- 
ment in this task. A Greek house in Albania is a symbol of mobility of several kinds, 
aspirational as much as spatial. Again, a point common to many of these contribu- 
tions is that material culture is rarely merely a reflection of contradictions. It is much 
more often an attempt at their resolution into something that a person can effectively 
live with and through. The aesthetic of order they feel is 'legitimate', a term that is 
later explored by Hosein. The house is not a fake brand, since this is an informal 
material culture that is not branded. But it is a hybrid creation that serves, as with 
Firlama, to help an individual feel at home in the contradictory and complex world 
of modern mobility. The fact that the house Fatos doesn't live in does more work to 
resolve these contradictions of place than the one he does live in is typical of these 
little ironies, these plays of the comic and tragic that are found in these brave new 
worlds of self-creation. 

In the chapters by Murray and Miller we confront the other end of the dialectic 
between the way a person is constructed as an objectification of place and yet has to 
be seen simultaneously as an individual. While the discontinuities of migration place 
the emphasis upon Fatos's own creativity through house decoration, these chapters 
have to deal with space that remains in place. In some ways my portrayal of the in- 
dividual in Jamaica is the precise opposite of those I have presented within London. 
The presentation of Jamaica is based on a structuralist opposition, closer to the origi- 
nal work of Bourdieu. The two individuals described in this chapter objectify the 
opposing qualities of Pentecostalism and the highly amoral world of taxi drivers; an 
opposition which constitutes the landscape of Orange Valley itself. Here we almost 
retreat to the older anthropological trope of the individual-as-microcosm to society- 
as-macrocosm, which is common to structural anthropology. But not entirely. There 
is such a powerful aesthetic in the ability of these two persons to creatively embrace 
and convey the values that are inculcated by their respective and opposed cultural 
positions that inevitably we also come to an appreciation of them as specific persons 
in this structured landscape. They are not just a Christian and a taxi driver; they 
do Christianity and taxi driving with extraordinary aplomb. The chapter also looks 
backwards to the previous contributions in its emphasis on the capacity of the things 
themselves, the mobile phone and the taxi, to act as objectifi cations of these wider 
aesthetic orders. 

Murray's chapter provides the perfect complement to Miller in that she tackles 
directly what is only alluded to by him. How, given this condition, by which a per- 
son exemplifies a place, does that person simultaneously gain his sense of himself 
in his specificity as a creative agent? Murray's paper starts in a highly socialized 
environment comparable to Olesen and ends with the self-crafting of an individual 
closer to Craciun. This chapter shows clearly, along with every chapter in this vol- 
ume, that we progress best by refusing to see this as merely some kind of opposition 

16 • Anthropology and the Individual 

between constraint and creativity. Being original is not opposed to conformity when 
it is something that is expected of you. As Olesen has already demonstrated, this 
dialectic works in particular ways in particular places. In the case of Murray the at- 
tention to material culture has made visible an entity we can call 'Madrid' that goes 
well beyond anything previously designated by the term. This is a cosmological 
Madrid that exists in an aesthetic of order which a true Madrilenian seeks to convey 
in his way of life. It is there in his relationship to going out in the city in the eve- 
ning, to setting up home and to having friends. So the individual Madrilenian has a 
clear consciousness of this burden of objectifying Madrid itself. As a result, perhaps 
more than the other chapters, Murray has to consider the place of individualism it- 
self. Because as the chapter unfolds, this devotion to conformity provides a kind of 
foundation of security and identity. But once this bedrock is established, her subject 
Manuel then constructs an elaborate expression of individual difference, first in his 
hobbies and his clothing and then as perfected in his blog. But even this creativity 
and its associated individualism is one that at the same time becomes an expression 
of conformity. Manuel is only exploiting what have become collectively designated 
sites for individualism that, as Murray shows, can be understood best in terms of the 
long history which lies behind this creation of Madrid as practice. 

If Manuel ends with his blog, then Horst's informants more or less start their 
search for individual creativity with their own presentation of the self in a virtual 
world. What is remarkable is that we have just been presented with the extraordinary 
conformity of Madrid and expect to see quite the opposite in the youth of California. 
California is the very seat of our notion of individualized self-expression as a kind 
of cult or ideology. The expectation here is that a youth will create an aesthetic form 
as an individual, if anything in repudiation of the collective. Yet in practice we en- 
counter a remarkably similar issue of the tension between conformity and specificity. 
Horst's informant Ann seeks to ground her externalized representation of herself in 
social networking sites within her given relationships. These may be relationships to 
objects, such as the aesthetics of her bedroom, or later on in her relationship to her 
college roommate. But so far from being an expression of free 'Californian' choice, 
these actions are tightly constrained. Sometimes this is an expression of the technol- 
ogy itself, as when she moves from MySpace which, relatively speaking, encour- 
ages personalization, to Facebook, which keeps originality within tightly controlled 
genres of presentation. Sometimes the constraint comes from wider relationships. So 
far from being autonomous from wider social control, Ann confronts a parental pres- 
sure that manifests concerns with danger circulating in public discourse. This power 
seeks to close down her efforts again and again. The situation in California is thereby 
in some ways closer to that of the authoritarian state in Cuba portrayed by Pertierra. 

The conflicting imaginations of mother and child are central also to the following 
paper by Bajic. Both her and Botticello's chapters focus on relationships to persons, 
but, as in all the previous chapters, there is also the clear influence of place and of 
objects in this creation of the aesthetic of the self. Both also engage with a particular 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 17 

context — the consequences of Diaspora. Bajic presents, with some compassion, the 
opposed perspectives of a mother in Serbia and her son Vladimir, now settled in 
London. The material culture of Vladimir's London home expresses his desire to 
maintain as much distance as possible from his place of origin. Not surprisingly his 
mother is unable to reconcile herself to this, and is therefore constantly looking for 
strategies to regain a foothold in her relationship with her son. He rejects all objects 
from his past, except a battery charger, while she, in good Maussian style, employs 
this in gifting to try and re-engage this relationship. Her conclusion looks appropri- 
ately to the work of Strathern (1988) who focuses upon the individual as constituted 
by relationships which only become apparent in the external aestheticized form of 
material culture and its exchanges. There is one important additional contribution. 
A reader cannot but be struck by the poignancy and nuances of Bajic's portrayal. 
What this, as also Craciun's chapter, successfully convey are the contradictions of 
generality and specificity that emerge when anthropologists use extended portraits of 
individuals. Partly because this is not just analytical, they are also deeply meaningful 
to the people being discussed. These are contradictions experienced as tragic, in the 
case of Bajic, or as liberation, in the case of Craciun. 

For Botticello the tension is not between separated persons representing homeland 
and Diaspora, but a tension that now exists within the community of the Diaspora 
itself. While the Sebian Vladamir seeks to evade any identification with Diaspora, 
in the case of the Yoruba community there remains a powerful commitment to this 
collectivity. An individual might wish to creatively express his or her own version of 
the hybridity and cosmopolitanism that comes with Diaspora life, on a par with Da- 
lakoglou's Fatos. But as Botticello's chapter shows, there remain vocal and effective 
constraints to the degree to which this is something that can be delegated down to the 
level of individuals. This is especially the case for public events. There is a forty-year- 
old woman who wants to wear unconventional dress to her own birthday, and other 
women who strive to assert their own balance between traditional forms and those they 
feel more appropriate to a London context. These both threaten the normative order of 
the London Yoruba community. But it is not so much constraint and disapproval that 
determine their practice, but the way in which that practice actively objectifies a wide 
range of social relations and commitments. As in several of the other chapters in this 
volume, what we learn is that while there may be a general acceptance that change 
is required to fit the dynamics of the world, there can still be passionate conflict over 
what is the acceptable unit which facilitates that change. As in the chapter by Murray, 
the individual is not simply the expression of individualism. The individual is better 
understood as the vehicle by which a larger social aesthetic achieves its dynamic. 

One of the dangers of concentrating upon individuals, rather than society, for so- 
cial science, is that it implies a turning of the lens. What was out of focus, invisible 
behind society, is now in focus. But potentially what was in focus now becomes the 
fuzzy and ignored background. Specifically it is the macro forces such as political 
economy and the state that can disappear from view when we focus down on the 

18 • Anthropology and the Individual 

individual. This can be just as distorting a lens as that which previously ignored the 
consequences of such forces for specific individuals. The intention of this volume is 
to create a new kind of lens that can remain in focus when we look both at macro 
forces and at individuals, so we can inspect in detail the relationship between these 
two. Liberalism and humanism both claim to focus upon the ethics of the individual 
and thereby claim to enhance our understanding of individuals. But as many criti- 
cal traditions within social science have pointed out, this can leave the individual 
detached from the wider context, and blind us to the forces that both create and con- 
strain individuals, such as political economy or the state; in which case so far from 
enhancing, such perspectives actually diminish that understanding. Fortunately none 
of the chapters in this volume fall into that trap. None of them feel it is possible to 
appreciate persons without also colouring in the background context. This may be 
migration as in Dalakoglou and Bajic, commerce for Craciun, Miller or Horst and in 
the final two chapters that of the state. 

For the chapters by Perierra and Hosein the materialism that is pertinent is not the 
material culture of objects, but an external force that creates the material conditions 
within which people live. What these chapters achieve is precisely what is lost in 
those approaches that either turn the lens inwards to people or outwards to macro- 
sociological perspectives. Both Perierra and Hosein start from the very evident si- 
multaneity of these two aspects of the same conditions. Their ethnography was based 
on individuals, who they came to know very well, but in doing so they also came to 
understand the effect of an order that is based on authority. Indeed right from the first 
chapter by Craciun we see that an individual who is quirky and eccentric may be just 
as good an exemplification of social order as a conformist. 

Given this task, there is a fascinating contrast between Pertierra and Hosein, who 
work from two very different Caribbean islands. In the case of Pertierra, based in 
Cuba, we have one of the most controlling states in the world, one that seeks to 
order almost every aspect of everyday life. And yet it is one which seeks legitimacy 
partly by using the rhetoric of struggle by which an individual understands his or 
her task of getting by on a daily basis. In this discourse of struggle the state tries to 
link directly to the individual through a common aesthetic. What Pertierra reveals 
is how individuals are nevertheless able to assert themselves through quite different 
relationships to this concept of struggle. These may align with or against the state's 
own discourse. She concludes on a point central to all these chapters. 'The relative 
inability to become a "pure" individual in contemporary Cuba in no way curtails the 
capacity for individual Cubans to engage in ordering their sense of self.' Individuals 
still find ways of seeing themselves reflected in agency, even in the absence of much 
by way of individualism. 

The conditions of Trinidad are very different from Cuba and allow Hosein to de- 
liver on the promise with which this introduction started. I implied that this volume 
would address the issue that is posed when we transcend oppositions between so- 
ciety and the individual; that we would not just treat the individual as the microcosm 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 19 

of a macrocosm which is society. The intriguing thing about Hosein's concept of 
authority is that this is as much a product of persons as of institutions, because ef- 
fective authority in Trinidad is based on legitimacy. So what comes to matter in the 
creation of social order is not just what institutions claim, or indeed what individuals 
claim, but what emerges from the grounds that each cedes to the other. This form of 
legitimate authority is an obj edification of the constant and dynamic relationship 
that exists between them by virtue of their simultaneity. 

As Hosein notes, these are structures of feelings as much as of materiality. The 
boundaries of where people can trade beyond the market are determined by what 
the market traders feel to be the limits of appropriate police authority — something 
very different from the legal definition of their authority. As we progress through her 
examples, whether the organization of a mosque, or the allocation of patronage, or 
the production of Carnival costumes, we see that morality itself has a shape and sub- 
stance that either looks legitimate or has evidently gone beyond its accepted place 
in the world. Together these amount to what she calls 'aesthetic authority', because 
they constitute ultimately the order that people feel bound to live by and judge others 
by. People constantly compare the way things appear to be with the way they feel 
they ought to be. 

This is the lesson of our volume: that people come to sense an order in the world 
which feels right, which looks right, and which comes to be taken for granted as the 
source of the normative. This is true whether the origins of that order are in states, 
in history or in their own creativity. To call it an aesthetic is to recognize that it has 
properties of balance and form and contrast. These may be in areas otherwise con- 
sidered of the arts, as in Olesen's study of design or Horst on the Web pages of social 
networking sites. But they may equally be found in the struggle to get by on a budget, 
the identity of one's house, the oscillation of legality and illegality objectified in fake 
goods, trying to be a true Madrilenian or Yoruba, or compassion in relationships be- 
tween mothers and children. This aesthetic may create an order homologous across 
different domains at the level of the individual, the family, traders in a market or the 
Yoruba Diaspora. But the very cohesion of this order and its points of identification 
for some may also alienate, harm or disempower others, who are excluded from or 
do not share this experience of the world. In some cases as the Jamaican Pentecostal 
and the taxi driver they may define each other by their opposition. Anthropology is 
the study of the normative; what comes to be accepted as the appropriate order of the 
world, and why people accept or reject this. 

So what we have discovered is ultimately that the same issue confronts us ir- 
respective of whether we are located at the extreme represented by Londoners who 
make up for themselves much of this order, almost as they go along, in their very 
private households. Or, at the other extreme, in Cuba, where the creation of order 
remains very much under the control of a state. This is why this is not a book about 
individualism or the concept of the individual; the two topics which dominate social 
science approaches to the individual. It is a book about individuals who have to be 

20 • Anthropology and the Individual 

accounted for, whatever the nature and extent of individualism and its encompassing 
ideologies. Rather than an opposition between the order by which a person lives and 
orders created by institutions, we have discovered an aesthetic which may be under- 
stood as a balance between these two by Hosein, an alignment with dominant social 
orders as in Olesen, or a selective and contested co-option of order from various 
sources as Botticello, Craciun, Dalakoglou, Murray and Pertierra. 

We have found a means to study and understand this normativity through a specif- 
ically anthropological perspective. Approaches to order originally created by anthro- 
pologists, such as Bourdieu, to account for society are here applied to individuals. We 
give full acknowledgement to an individual's sense of order, which may be partly de- 
rived from parents and other social relationships, from their sense of place, and from 
their alignment with, opposition to, or compromise with the authority of the state. 
This order may represent a socialized habitus, their own personal habitus, or most 
often habiti. But for individuals, just as for Kabyle society, much of this order is con- 
structed in and taken from material culture, rather than as a cognitive model. Order 
exists external to ourselves. People are found in this volume to have an endless cre- 
ative capacity to explore the propensities of various genres of objects to create their 
understanding of themselves in the world, though they are constantly constrained 
and often frustrated both by the limits of these media and by the authority of others. 
Indeed the very concept of the creative person is found again and again to be a highly 
socialized construction that determines which media are permitted for individualized 
appropriation. Unlike phenomenology, we do not presume to emphasize any particu- 
lar medium of things, whether the body or the landscape. Often it is objects we would 
not have anticipated highlighting — taxis, fake brands or mobile phones. 

A final advantage of this direct confrontation with individuals is that it reflects 
also the integrity of anthropological fieldwork; that one starts with the empathy of 
ethnography, immersed in the lives of specific people, often friends, as much as in- 
formants. Many of us are touched by this encounter and wish to convey them; even 
as analytically we have to encompass the wider forces that we must also understand 
in order to account for those people as individuals. So this new application of tradi- 
tional anthropological perspectives to the study of individuals is surely an extension, 
rather than a reduction, of the significance of the discipline itself. It stands as respect 
for the forces that create individuals as well as for the individuals that live with and 
through such constraints and potentials. In focusing upon individuals we enhance, 
rather than detract, from our appreciation of that premise for anthropology — the cre- 
ative capacity of society. 


1. The approach outlined in this introduction contrasts with most anthropological 
approaches to individuals, though some run parallel to the ideas explored here. 

Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 21 

There is probably little overlap with anthropological approaches to individuals 
that have derived from various rapprochements with psychology that arise from 
time to time (e.g. Benedict 1974; Schwartz, White and Lutz 1992) through to 
more recent interest in cognitive approaches (e.g. Bloch 1998), psychoanalysis 
(e.g. Moore 2007), or psychology itself (e.g. Holland 2001). The most sus- 
tained concern in anthropology has probably been its relativist stance to our 
understanding of what we mean by the terms individual and the self. Extensive 
discussions follow from the work of Mauss (1985), for example Carrithers, Col- 
lins and Lukes (1985), and of Dumont (1992), for example Celtel (2004). This 
relativism has also been applied to the concept of the individual in industrial 
societies (e.g. Kusserow 1999). Brian Morris (1994) provides a useful summary 
of many such discussions. More recent approaches include the extensive impact 
of Strathern (e.g. 1979, 1988, 1992) both on the self in Melanesia and England. 
Also the work of Rapport (1997) building on that of Cohen (1994). There is 
an obvious analogy between this volume and Rapport's aspiration 'to give a 
comparative account of individual's meaningful experience' (2002: 9). The ap- 
proach taken here is complementary and different but not necessarily a critique 
of their perspective. Finally there have also been anthropological approaches to 
the individual which arose either from methodological and philosophical issues 
or which followed a more biographical imperative such as Freeman (1979) or 
Shostak (1981). All anthropological contributions run parallel to many socio- 
logical rapprochements which include methodological individualism, the influ- 
ence of economists such as Becker (e.g. 1996) and recent work on the rise of 
the individualism associated with Beck (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002), Gid- 
dens (1991) and Putnam (2000). Within material culture, relevant approaches 
range from Hoskins's Biographical Objects (1998) to Cell (1998) on agency 
and, although not usually categorized in this way, I would suggest also Sennett 

Bourdieu was not averse to the analysis of individuals, the best examples being his 
discussion of Flaubert (Bourdieu 1996a; Eastwood 2007) and Heidegger (Bour- 
dieu 1996b). But this did not proceed through the direct analogy with his analysis 
of society as proposed here. 

The use of the term 'aesthetic' here is not intended to connote its usual employ- 
ment within the specific field of the arts, especially not contemporary art. It is also 
far removed from more philosophical concerns with the role of the aesthetic in the 
evolution of Western thought and ideology (Eagleton 1990). Many anthropologi- 
cal approaches evoke the relation of fragments to the whole (see Simmel 1968) 
as with the aesthetic of the microcosm implicated in Geertz or Bourdieu. But my 
use implies almost the opposite. Not the individual as a fragment, but the way an 
individual builds for himself or herself something that creates a sense of order 
which may or may not feel holistic for that individual. It may be based on his or 
her creativity, on the orders imposed upon him or her. More commonly it derives 

22 • Anthropology and the Individual 

from his or her selective co-opting of the orders he or she finds in his or her world, 
whether from family traditions, cultural traditions, institutions or others. As in all 
material culture approaches the concern is as much how these orders make people 
as how people make orders. What makes the word 'aesthetic' appropriate was 
rather a throw back to the pre-modern use of the term as expressing qualities that 
people wished to see reproduced in the arts, as they were assumed to have a bear- 
ing on the sense of beauty; principles such as harmony, balance and symmetry, 
but in the light of modernism, we could also add dissonance, contradiction and 
even edgy. 
4. All the contributors to this volume were students for whom I was the primary 
supervisor of their PhD except Botticello and Dalakoglou for whom I was the 
second supervisor and Olesen who was formally supervised in Denmark but then 
settled in the Department at University College London as an Honorary Research 
Associate. We are all grateful to the comments on these papers over the years by 
other PhD students who overlapped with this 'generation' of students. We would 
also acknowledge the contribution of many visiting students from various coun- 
tries who typically came to work with me for a few months and joined the drinking 
group for that duration providing comments on these papers and indeed drinks. 


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Individuals and the Aesthetic of Order • 23 

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ford: Berg, 121-38. 

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Lives, London: Routledge. 

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and Soft Individualism in Manhattan and Queens', Ethos, 27: 210-34. 

Le Roy Ladurie, E. (1978), Montaillou, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 

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Royal Anthropological Institute, 3(4): 747-60. 

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Kegan Paul. 

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tion of Self, in M. Carrithers, S. Collins and S. Lukes (eds), The Category of the 
Person, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-25. 

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24 • Anthropology and the Individual 

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Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating 
as an Individual 

Magdalena Craciun 

Since we first met, Firlama has rearranged his shop three times. He is the only trader 
in this small Istanbulite bazaar who has allowed this anthropologist, interested in 
fake brands, to drop by any time she wants and to poke her nose into his business 
and his life. At first, the goods he is dealing in, that is fake branded underwear and, 
in a smaller quantity, fake branded perfumes and socks, were crammed into the attic 
of a glassware shop. Then, the glassware disappeared and the fakes took its place. 
A few months later, the shop was refurbished and a large selection of t-shirts, shirts, 
coats, sweaters, jackets and scarves, all fake branded, were displayed. When Firlama 
and his neighbour became partners in a new business, he moved into a smaller place, 
further down the same alley, and has kept on selling fake brands ever since. T love 
this business. I have given it 25 years of my life,' he said one day, while playing 
absent-mindedly with a pair of bright orange boxer shorts, stretching them, checking 
the seams and stitches. 

As for me, through sitting in his shop and coming to know him, an imitasyoncu, 
that is a maker and seller of fake brands, I often found myself in two minds. Some- 
times, I shared with him my discomfort. 'You seem a quiet man, like the other trad- 
ers. Could I say you are a typical tradesman?'. He remained silent for a while. 

I am not a quiet man, actually, but everyone has a different view on life. You may say 
'I finished this school and I want to work at this place.' You draw a line for yourself to 
follow. Since my childhood, I have been used to living on high adrenaline. I don't like an 
unexciting life. If I didn't do imitation, I would rent this place, go and sit at home. I don't 
do this job only because I have to. This is my personality. I can't help doing it. You can 
see around other people doing imitations but they keep only a few products in the shop. I 
have a few thousands only in this shop. Plus the depots. Plus the factory. The others don't 
really take big risks. That's the typical tradesman, not me. 

Explanations as such helped me to better grasp the particularities of this trajectory. At 
the same time, they pointed out that Firlama himself must have experienced moments 
of discomfort and must have meditated on the contradictions inherent in his life. 


26 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Firlama is an old nickname of my interlocutor, whose real identity I prefer, given 
his involvement in illegal activities, not to disclose. It is a nickname given usually 
to bold, impatient and practical minded children who demonstrate at an early age a 
keen sense of social manoeuvring. My encounter with Firlama can be described as an 
instance of the 'complicity of mutual interest between anthropologist and informant, 
subtly but clearly understood by each other, that makes rapport possible — indeed 
that constitutes, even constructs it' (Marcus 1997: 89). After quasi-disappointing in- 
terviews with people exercising care when releasing information about their illegal 
occupation, I was looking for someone who was willing to reveal the juicy details 
an anthropologist wants to know regarding the quotidian of dealing in fake branded 
clothing in Istanbul. He, at the time slowly recovering from his most severe blow yet, 
a lawsuit that forced him to hide his goods and reduce the rhythm of his business, 
gradually welcomed the inquisitive anthropologist interested in listening to his ideas 
on this kind of business and its prosecution and the opportunity it presented for self- 
reflection and self-presentation. 

Focusing on Firlama's life, this chapter brings to the foreground the way an in- 
dividual creates an understanding of himself and the order he lives by — practical, 
personal, moral — by exploiting the potential for fake brands as something that de- 
fies rules and flirts with illegality. The individual self-creates himself as a balance 
between conformity/legality and individuality/illegality, a balance that, despite its 
particularity, is very much in line with the idea Miller advocates in the introduction 
of this book, that of an aesthetic constructed at the level of the individual. 

This balance materializes itself in the fake brand, a form of material culture that 
represents the 'principal locus for the objectification of the structuring principle' 
(Bourdieu 1977: 89) which governs the life of the protagonist of this chapter. The 
equilibrium between conformity and non-conformity is objectified in this ambigu- 
ous object, simultaneously conforming and disobeying, simultaneously inhabiting 
different 'orders of appearance' (Baudrillard 2001: 414). For the fake branded com- 
modity might be seen as belonging to 'the first order of appearance', its relation to 
the officially branded goods being that of a counterfeit to an original. The first-order 
simulacrum never abolishes difference, its main characteristic being 'an always de- 
tectable alteration between semblance and reality' . A fake brand might be seen as the 
illegal version of a conventional form. At the same time, in a place like Istanbul, 
that is a major site of production in the global clothing industry, in which strategies 
are invented to make brands proliferate by escaping systems of control and in which 
it is not unusual to have the official copies and illegal versions manufactured in the 
same factory, even with the same materials, the fake brands might be also understood 
as belonging to 'the second order of appearance'. That is to say, the order of the serial 
production and the relation between the objects of a series is 'no longer that of an 
original to its counterfeit — neither analogy nor reflections — but equivalence, indif- 
ference. In a series, objects become undefined simulacra of one another' (Baudrillard 
2001: 414). A fake brand might be thus understood as a legitimate object, another 

Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual • 27 

version of a conventional form. Put it in a nutshell, a peculiar project of assertion of 
individuality uses a contested object as its most fertile soil. 

The Rebellious Son 

Born into the family of a patriarchal tradesman, Firlama is a son who rebelled. His 
father, whom he sometimes describes as a conservative man (haci hoca takimiydi), 
and, at other times, as an uneducated person (cahil), mistrusted his family members' 
ability to execute important decisions, tried to make his children dependent upon his 
wisdom, experience and judgement and sought to imbue them with his own traits and 
values. For 'patriarchy entails cultural constructs and structural relations that privi- 
lege the initiative of males and elders in directing the lives of others,' a system Jo- 
seph (1999: 12) calls patriarchal connectivity. 1 Firlama, the youngest among the six 
children, was terrified, wondering why his father treated him in a manifestly unfair 
way and whether he is an unwanted child (fazlahk). Kandiyoti (1994) argues male 
children in patriarchal systems are as powerless as women and, before they them- 
selves become patriarchs, they are sons who have to obey seemingly all-powerful 
fathers. Such experiences might mutilate the psyche, some sons going so far as to 
promise themselves that they will never behave like their fathers. 

Firlama started coming to the bazaar at about the age of five, for the father wanted 
his boys in the bazaar after school hours, to earn their pocket money and learn the 
trade. Moreover, the father wished his youngest son to become an imam. Therefore, 
the boy was sent to an Imam-Hatip school, a choice probably motivated less by 
interest in education in accordance with Muslim beliefs and more by the positive 
evaluation of the school in terms of parental prestige and social mobility. With broad 
appeal to conservative families, these schools are state-run vocational institutions 
opened in the early 1950s, which prepare students to become knowledgeable about 
Islam and, preferably, to occupy religious functionary positions. Tn such a setting, 
students are expected to develop a sense of comfort in resigning themselves to ac- 
cepting conformity, rather than developing the ability to recognise and confront their 
own complicity in the construction of their identities . . . The opportunities for the 
playful experimentation of the cultural milieu that marks the adolescent years in 
regular schools are curtailed in this environment' (Pak 2004: 336-7). Firlama spent 
four years in an institution characterized by an atmosphere of discipline, where the 
duty of the students is to obey, and the task of the teachers is to inculcate moral values 
and compel students to be adherents to and practitioners of Muslim teachings. 

Upon finishing this school, Firlama left home. He knew how heartbreaking it 
had been for his parents, especially for his little sister who loved him dearly, when 
he left home for good, but Firlama still could not help but suspect they had also 
been relieved deep down. He had to leave the house and pursue his own life of self- 
fulfillment. For six years, he lived a colourful life on the streets, encountered all 

28 • Anthropology and the Individual 

manner of experiences and made the most of doing everything that was previously 
forbidden. His father knew nothing about him getting arrested at the age of sixteen 
and, again, at the age of eighteen. His decision to go out into the world was one 
of remarkable boldness, and through it he gained material and spiritual autonomy. 
Emancipation from paternal, religious and communal control came as an expression 
of a lust for life, an act of self-assertion, against a father who wished him to follow a 
path which Firlama did not envisage for himself. 

The masculine self had been, thus, negotiated within and against multiple sites and 
multiple relationalities for, although the 'son/parents relationship is certainly a central 
site for constructing identity, it is the convergence and divergence of this core relation- 
ship with other crucial relationalities that determine the sense of self (Al-Nowaihi 
1999: 238). After family and school, the other formative institution Firlama entered 
was the 'street'. This was the space inhabited by delikanh, literally meaning indi- 
viduals with crazy blood, a term referring to adolescents and young unmarried men, 
who valorize the untamed and undomesticated. Among the popular classes, delikanh 
is a desirable status of masculinity, 'a certain amount of deviant behaviour [being] 
accepted as an inevitable concomitant of this stage' (Kandiyoti 1994: 210). Firlama 
crossed that line, rebelling against the father, traditionally regarded as the guarantor 
and protector of the normative order, and the state, the modern guarantor and protec- 
tor of the order. He was imprisoned several times. Moreover, he was, in his words, 
'political', that is actively involved in the political events of the turbulent 1970s. 

He returned home in 1979, around the day he was supposed to start his military 
service. Hard as it was during this time Firlama had managed and became, thanks to 
his excellent driving skills and bold manners, the personal driver and bodyguard of a 
high ranking officer. The army, one of the important institutions responsible for the 
production of masculinity in Turkey, played a major role in crystallizing his personal 
habitus. For there, demonstrating resourcefulness, wit and bravery, he began to value 
his 'difference' and to search for ways of combining his predilection for adventure 
with socially accepted modalities of earning a living and placing oneself in society. 

I love adrenaline. One memory I have . . . There is a distance of 12 km between Svel- 
ingrad and Kapikule [the Bulgarian and Turkish border points]. At four o'clock in the 
morning, I ran the 12 km together with some wolves. As I reached and surrendered to the 
Turkish police, I heard the alarm sounds at my back. All my friends were caught back 
there, and they were all sentenced to 3 years in jail. My adrenaline was at its highest level 
there . . . You see, I have the tendency to do what ordinary people are afraid to do. What's 
interesting is that this is not in my genes. My parents, my grandparents, my uncles, no 
one has these genes. See, my brother, he is like a sheep. I am the only one in my family 
who does risky business. 

He had only one wish for life, that is to prove himself. He could have chosen to 
enter deeper into the underworld or to become a spy, as the officer he worked for 

Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual • 29 

wanted him, but smuggling and faking seemed the best options, the 'cleanest' ones, 
preventing him from taking the path of marginality. Years of travelling all over Tur- 
key, Europe and the Middle East followed, driving buses, smuggling watches, chew- 
ing gums, jeans, gold and silver, bartering with the Russians, doing imitations, or 
spending time in jails all over the region, only the stamps on the passport providing 
evidence for this exceptional way of life. He had an insatiable appetite for life, and 
availed himself of the opportunities that came his way, accumulating years full of all 
kinds of adventures that make one feel life was worth living. 

One day, he returned to the bazaar and to the shop he inherited from his father. 
Work became his life: night shifts as a taxi driver; driving his van early in the morn- 
ings to the manufacturing sites; haggling with factory owners for every penny; car- 
rying the goods to the shop; selling to customers; and carefully piling up his money. 
And so he established himself as a trader, with a stable capital. Firlama married when 
he was in his late twenties, but divorced ten years later, bringing up his two kids on 
his own, being simultaneously, as he is fond of emphasizing, father, mother, cook 
and cleaner. 2 He swore to himself that he wouldn't subject his children to the inequi- 
ties he had suffered at his father's hand. Today, even though he is in his late forties, 
he still calls himself and behaves like a delikanh despite the fact that this stage in a 
man's life usually comes to an end with military service, marriage and fatherhood. At 
other times and in different contexts he enacts the authority of an honourable, honest 
and knowledgeable tradesman and the 'domesticated masculinity' of the responsible 
householder (Loizos 1994). 

The Choice of Profession 

I wanted to make money everyday regularly. Some people say 'It's ok if I don't earn a 
lot as long as I don't get into trouble.' With me it's the opposite. I want to earn a lot but 
I don't care if I get into trouble. That is my character. Little by little, I came to realize 
smuggling, imitation are the kind of jobs I would make money everyday, even if they are 
dangerous ones. Before the military service, somebody asked for CK, for England, a big 
smuggling deal. I had already the tendency, I dived right in. I still haven't surfaced. 

Since the early 1980s, Firlama has been involved in the trade in fake brands, acquir- 
ing considerable expertise; learning the tricks; recovering after the blows, for betrayal 
and loss are frequent in this trade; searching for new connections and customers; 
getting to know who else is in this trade; evaluating which brand sells well, which 
colours are preferred, which models suit the taste of local and foreign clients, what 
technologies are most effective and what sources of excess products and leakages 
from the local textile industry are available. The gradual transformation of Istanbul 
into a site of production in a globalizing clothing industry and the city's recapturing 
of its historical role as a regional market, with trading routes spreading across a vast 
area, including the Balkans, Western and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, have offered 

30 • Anthropology and the Individual 

good opportunities for the development of a business such as this one. And the rule 
of the left and right pockets, that is dividing money gained from sales into spending 
money, to be put in the right pocket, and money for the shop and factory, to be kept 
in the left pocket, has become his golden rule. He claims he learnt from the Jewish 
traders this rule that allowed him to remain on the market. In time, he has become 
ka$arh, that is experienced. 

Effort must be put into making fraud too. Look at this pair of cotton boxers. I have 
made it nicely. The model and fabric are wonderful. If I don't sew this with mercerized 
fiber, it will be torn in less than two months. Soon, this model will be sold by others too, 
but it won't be the same quality, I can guarantee you this. The machine which weaves 
this comes from Italy. The machine is worth €105,000. Its brand is, let's say, Ferrari. 
The thread it uses has to be Ferrari too. I could make this 100 per cent synthetic and 
write the same thing, then I would sell it to you for €1.50. The only lie here is that it 
writes 'made in Italy'. Everything else is true. If I wrote 'made in Turkey', I wouldn't 
even have the chance to sell it. Then it wouldn't be imitation. It would be pointless. . . 
Sometimes I sign cheques worth 80-100 million lira per month. I don't really have that 
kind of potential. My working capital is like $300-400,000. If you saw my cheque list, 
you would say I have the courage of a crazy person or a fool. Actually, I have the cour- 
age of an honest person. I think some customer or another will buy these products and 
I will be able to pay for my checques . . . My experience, my investments, my honesty, 
the idea people have about me, these all make up my settled position in the business. As 
long as your products are good, nobody can touch you in this business. Except for the 
lawyers, of course. 

He was first caught in 2001, due to a careless mistake. The number of the flat in 
which he had a deposit and the number of the building were the same. A team of law- 
yers was looking for the ground floor shop, in order to make a routine inspection. His 
employee happened to smoke a cigarette in front of the entrance at the wrong time 
and answered candidly to their question, indicating that number fifty-six was on the 
fifth floor. The lawyers entered the paradise, a flat filled to the brim with fake branded 
goods, and Firlama faced a heavy fine and years in jail. The sentence was, however, 
suspended for five years, as this is the period after which the files are cleared, a legal 
loophole for whose application he generously bribed lawyers and judges. Thus, one 
day, his activity was redefined as 'illegal' and his relation with the state acquired a 
new dimension. 

Consequently, he took more precautions, changing more often the location of his 
production sites, hiding the deposits even better, arranging for the bank to sequester 
some of his properties and strengthening his ties with local politicians, lawyers and 
underworld leaders. In the law courts, he always denied selling fake branded prod- 
ucts, played stupid every time he went there, acting as if he did not have a clue about 
what happened. Lawyers paid impromptu visits also to the shop, but each time he 
kept himself out of trouble, half-bribing, half-threatening them. 'Isn't it a crime to 

Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual • 31 

sell what cost you €2 for €40? Or is it a crime to sell it for €3? You decide.' He for 
his part decided this is not a crime and he is not a criminal. 

I never try to take anybody's money. I don't have any bad records with banks or the 
tax office. I don't have a problem with the state or people in person. I don't mess with 
people, but with the brands. Because it is my major. Like you have your master's degree, 
I have this ... I never sold drugs, I used them but never sold them and poisoned people. I 
never gambled. I did gamble only for fun, but I didn't put the gambling money into my 
pocket ... I heard that nowadays, if you type a name on the Internet, all the lawsuits of 
that person will pop up. I have many, so many. One might think I am a bad person. But 
I do imitations. 

These events and the growing attempts at enforcing intellectual property legisla- 
tion did not discourage or frightened him. As the five-year period has come to an end, 
he is presently fully back in business, selling counterfeit goods in broad daylight, 
while keeping a studious lookout for authorities and rivals. 

The Respected Trader 

There is one thing Firlama seems to never tire of: this is setting his shop in order. 
A short, big-bellied, middle-aged man, he swings by amidst the packages carefully 
piled up on top of one another on the floor but nevertheless occupying half of the 
twelve-square-metres shop. After standing motionless for a few seconds, as if nailed 
to the spot, scrutinizing everything, he lights another cigarette. The satisfaction he 
feels at what he sees is so evident that a neighbour cannot help but congratulate him 
for such an organized shop. 

In this small bazaar, the mornings are busy, with big orders to be taken care of, 
goods to be sent to regular customers, bulk buyers to be served and trips back and forth 
with deposits to supplement the stock to be made. Everything must be done quickly, 
lest the client should be kept waiting. Accordingly, his apprentice is frequently scolded 
during these hours for failing to quickly select the requested items or for claiming that 
the ordered items are not available in the deposits. To this chatterbox of a boy, Firlama 
feels bound to say over and over that doing business requires mind and moderation, 
permanent circulation of money and respect for the customers and that forgetting these 
principles might result in losing everything. In their world, a poor man is a nobody. 
Ideally, the trader must put his whole heart into his work, must be honest and thrifty. 
Consequently, he will prosper and his shop and deposits will be heaped to the brim. 

Every now and then agitated shopkeepers rush inside, in urgent need of articles in 
a certain colour, size or brand, sometimes accompanied by their clients. Occasional 
customers make their way into the shop in a greater number around noon and late af- 
ternoon. They are welcomed with honeyed words, encouraged to rummage through 
the shelves and tempted with colourful underwear, in sixteen shades, as Firlama is 

32 • Anthropology and the Individual 

fond of telling, far more than the colour scheme of their officially branded counter- 
parts. The naives, that is those who think they have made a lucky find, brands for a 
fraction of their price, are assured the goods in this shop are all imitations. The both- 
ersomes, who imagine they can get a good discount for buying three pairs instead 
of two, are cut short and left alone to ponder whether they want to buy or not. The 
hesitaters are shown different items in the hope they would finally reach a decision, 
but sometimes their obvious pleasure in turning the shop upside down indisposes 
the shopkeeper. During these encounters, without exception, there comes a moment 
when both parties stretch the underwear, Firlama to demonstrate their resistance and 
quality, the customers to check whether they suit them or not. 

Business partners and other traders drop by from time to time, in search of infor- 
mation. The injustices they have suffered, usually unpaid debts, are eagerly shared, 
the men seething with indignation, uttering harsh but well-deserved words. Known as 
an honest person (dilrilst), Firlama is the best audience, his most trenchant criticism 
being reserved for the fickle characters, the ignorants and the blowers of bubbles. 
For the competition has become tougher, this profitable business attracting crowds 
of newcomers, who have no scruples about betraying other traders and threaten- 
ing lawyers. From the gossip lavishly dispensed at these meetings, all participants 
distill pieces of noteworthy information. Business propositions are carefully pon- 
dered over, for everyone knows the local habit of bragging and promising, only to 
conveniently forget, a second later. Samples are carefully scrutinized, with expert 
eyes that know good trimmings and seams and experienced hands that can evaluate 
the fabrics. Financial issues might necessitate more than the simple act of giving or 
receiving cash or cheques. To solve the matters, appealing to every known tie and 
blandishments is one technique, but equally possible are threats and shouting, grov- 
elling and haughtiness. 

Firlama for his part doesn't miss a chance to present himself as a successful 
trader. In those moments, as they say, his tongue is hung in the middle and wags at 
both ends. His numerous clients, the high-tech factory, the clever way in which his 
business is organized, the quality of the products, the models, the brands, the new 
arrivals in his shop, all eddy around in those torrents of words. To those who come 
in for advice, for they would also like to enter the trade in imitations but are afraid, 
he is fond of explaining the comical side of this business (his favourites being the 
following: policemen come and look for someone, they are told the guy disappeared, 
so they write in the register "unknown address" and leave, happy to get off cheaply; 
lawyers raid a shop, and in a second the whole bazaar knows, and the hunted goods 
vanish in the blink of an eye). Danger can be overcome with connections, money and 
intelligence, so the moral goes. The ridiculous and the serious converge, and this is 
something many but him find confusing. 

The morality of his business is rarely an issue of concern for these visitors, with the 
exception of his rich and educated relatives. They have mixed feelings for Firlama, 
a relative at whom they turn up their noses, for he is an uneducated man doing an 

Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual • 33 

unethical business and disobeying the normative order of the state that offered pro- 
tection to his family, foreigners, Turks from Macedonia. To his arguments — fakes as 
free advertisement and a means of living for many people; the unjustified high price 
of the so-called original and the fair price and quality of the so-called counterfeit; 
the payment of taxes — they turn a deaf ear. Nevertheless, they do buy from his shop 
many items. 

One day, lost in thoughts, he muttered under his breath to the anthropologist, 
watching her with friendliness: 

I became like this for I wanted to. Also life made me like this. But I am happy with the 
way I am, for I always had money this way. I have twelve, fifteen more years to live, I 
smoke and drink, let's say I will die at seventy. I live by my own rules and I will stay like 
this till then ... I will drown not in a lake, but in the ocean. I will be eaten up by sharks or 
whales in the ocean, but I will not die in a lake. 

In the bazaar time flows by. Everything the shopkeeper does in here — sipping tea; 
smoking; chatting to the neighbours; gossiping about passers-by and common ac- 
quaintances; eavesdropping on chats ebbing and flowing with the inclusion of new 
participants, often never to be concluded or completed; haggling over the prices; 
putting things back on the shelves or dusting the merchandise — not only has he 
certainly done many times before, but is also liable to repetition infinite times in the 
future. For Firlama, however, the daily routine is interspersed with doses of excite- 
ment, for adventurous episodes might occur, in his case, even in a bazaar immersed 
in languor. 

Concluding Remarks 

One of the predominant themes of the Middle Eastern novel is that of the individ- 
ual rebelling against the social norms, triumphing over a hostile, uncomprehending 
undifferentiated collective (Al-Nowaihi 1999; Altorki 1999; Muhidine 2006). Such 
novels portray individuals ready to explore and determine matters on their own, to 
formulate their own set of values rather than accept what is being handed down to 
them. Central to such works, it has been pointed out, is a perceived tension between 
two models of self, that is the individual self who values autonomy, independence 
and being unique, and the relational self who has relatively fluid boundaries and de- 
rives its sense of worth from being part of, rather than apart from, a collective entity 
and significant others. Even though their fictionality casts a shadow on their validity 
as sources of knowledge, for it might be argued that the purpose of creating these 
exceptional characters is that of contaminating the readers and causing them to ques- 
tion the social order, such novels, nevertheless, emphasize an important character- 
istic of the Middle Eastern societies, namely, 'the tenuous waters that a person must 
navigate with and against the family to create the self (Al-Nowaihi 1999: 262). 

34 • Anthropology and the Individual 

In the Muslim Middle East family and community have been valued over and 
above the person, connective relationships becoming not only functional but neces- 
sary for successful social existence. However, persons in these cultures have often 
resisted and constructed alternatives, for the embeddedness in relational matrices 
that shape the self does not deny distinctive initiative and agency. Connectivity can 
thus co-exist with individualism in the same culture and perhaps even in the same 
person (Joseph 1999: 189). Though crucial for the construction of self in the Middle 
East, experiences in the family are but one instance of a whole range of institutional 
arrangements which go into the definition of what it means to be a man or a woman 
(Kandiyoti 1994: 202). In a society such as Turkey, it is worth keeping in mind the 
possible influence on identity construction of the modern masculine and feminine 
ideals of nationalism (Kandiyoti 1997: 122). In brief, as a sense of the self has to 
be formulated within and against the constructions of personhood available in a so- 
ciety, the peculiar balance between conformity and individuality discussed in this 
chapter could have nevertheless taken root even on thick communalist soil. This 
struggle for self has unfolded in a culture that valorizes kin structures, morality and 
idioms, resulting in an unconventional but fulfilled life. 

Firlama started his life under very strict rules, but responded by systematic re- 
jection and needed illegality to confirm himself as individual rather than the mere 
product of these rules. His rebellion can be defined as opposition to conformity but 
without the desire for changing the social order that conformity supports. Rebellion 
from paternal, religious and communal control, the formative institutions he entered 
during his life, his ability to cross different social milieu, all 'predisposed him to a 
broader view of the space of possible and hence to a more complete use of the free- 
dom inherent in its constraints' (Bourdieu 1996: 208). 

He has found a niche that allows for the possibility to construct himself in terms 
of a morality he is comfortable with, which has much smaller oscillations between 
conventional morality and illegality and which he can envisage as expressing his 
own moral position. After a big oscillation between conformity and illegality, he 
has engaged in an activity that guarantees the exciting experiences he has always 
been fond of and that allows him to be not only an honest trader, who sells quality 
at a fair price; but also a good citizen, who pays his taxes. These are his moral acts, 
and, as Asad (2003: 95) emphasized, they are not necessarily the responsible acts 
of a free agent answerable to God, society, or conscience. The agency can be traced 
back to his habitus, and to that part of it Asad calls 'ethical sensibility', acquired, in 
this case, especially in religious school. Thus, he was able to reconcile himself with 
his primary experiences and take them upon himself, to assume them without losing 
anything he subsequently acquired. The multiple but antagonistic determination of 
his personal habitus has been successfully channelled into constructing a balance, 
however fragile, between conformity and nonconformity, conventional and illegal. 

And it is the fake brand, the kind of object he is dealing in for the last twenty-five 
years, which objectifies this peculiar process of self-making. In a way that parallels 

Trading in Fake Brands, Self-creating as an Individual • 35 

Bourdieu's description of the Kabyle house (Bourdieu 1977), the ambiguous nature 
of the fake brand might be understood as reflecting a particular habitus and repro- 
ducing its constitutive elements for the inhabitant of this 'very very small society' 
(Miller 2008: 295) that is Firlama. 


1. 'Patriarchy entails cultural constructs and structural relations that privilege 
the initiative of males and elders in directing the lives of others. Connectiv- 
ity entails cultural constructs and structural relations in which persons invite, 
require, and initiate involvement with others in shaping the self. In patriarchal 
societies, then, connectivity can support patriarchal power by crafting selves 
responding to, requiring, and socialised to initiate involvement with others in 
shaping the self, and patriarchy can help reproduce connectivity by crafting 
males and seniors prepared to direct the lives of female and juniors and females 
and juniors prepared to respond to the direction of males and seniors' (Joseph 
1999: 12-13). Though this concept is used for understanding selving in the 
Arab/Muslim world, it is taken here as being also relevant for another Muslim 
society, the Turkish one. 

2. In almost all the Middle Eastern states, family law has upheld men's property in 
their children, so that, upon divorce, control of the children is given to the father 
(Joseph 2000: 21). 


Al-Nowaihi, M. M. (1999), 'Constructions of Masculinities in Two Egyptian Nov- 
els', in S. Joseph, (ed.), Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self, and 
Identity, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 235-63. 

Altorki, S. (1999), 'Patriarchy and Imperialism: Father-Son and British-Egyptian 
Relations in Najib Mahfuz's Trilogy', in S. Joseph (ed.), Intimate Selving in 
Arab Families: Gender, Self, and Identity, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University 
Press, 214-34. 

Asad, T (2003), Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, Stanford, 
CA: Stanford University Press. 

Baudrillard, J. (2001), 'Simulations', in R. Kearney and D. Rasmussen (eds), Conti- 
nental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism. An Anthology, Oxford: Black- 
well Publishing, 411-30. 

Bourdieu, P. (1977), Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press. 

Bourdieu, P. (1996), The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, 
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 

36 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Joseph, S. (1999), 'Introduction: Theories and Dynamics of Gender, Self, and Iden- 
tity in Arab Families', in S. Joseph (ed.), Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gen- 
der, Self, and Identity, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1-17. 

Joseph, S. (2000), 'Gendering Citizenship in the Middle East', in S. Joseph (ed.), 
with a foreword by D. Kandiyoti, Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, 
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 3-30. 

Kandiyoti, D. (1994), 'The Paradoxes of Masculinity: Some Thoughts on Segre- 
gated Societies', in A. Cornwall and N. Lindisfarne (eds), Dislocating Masculin- 
ity: Comparative Ethnographies, London: Routledge, 197-213. 

Kandiyoti, D. (1997), 'Gendering the Modern: On Missing Dimensions in the Study 
of Turkish Modernity', in S. Bozdogan and R. Kasaba (eds), Rethinking Moder- 
nity and National Identity in Turkey, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 

Loizos, P. (1994), 'A Broken Mirror: Masculine Sexuality in Greek Ethnography', 
in A. Cornwall and N. Lindisfarne (eds), Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative 
Ethnographies, London: Routledge, 66-81. 

Marcus, G. E. (1997), 'The Uses of Complicity in the Changing Mise-en-Scene of 
Anthropological Fieldwork', Representations, 59: 85-108. 

Miller, D. (2008), The Comfort of Things, Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Muhidine, T (2006), 'L'individu inquiet de la litterature turque', Cahiersd' etudes sur 
la Mediterranee orientale et le monde turco-iranien, Cemoti, no. 26: L'individu 
en Turquie et en Iran, mis en ligne le 20 mars 2006, 
document34.html (accessed 16 July 2008). 

Pak, S.-Y. (2004), 'Articulating the Boundary between Secularism and Islamism: 
The Imam-Hatip Schools of Turkey', Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 
55(3): 324-44. 

'Making Things Come Out': Design, 

Originality and the Individual 

in a Bogolan Artisan Community 

Bodil Birkebcek Olesen 

While the study of design is closely linked to that of individuals, the study of dec- 
orative patterns tends to focus instead on their relationship to or significance for 
collective entities. Within the field of textile history terms such as 'Kuba cloth' or 
'Ewe textiles' — classifying a group of textiles by referring to the ethnic or cultural 
group that made them — speaks to a scholarly legacy of conceptualizing material 
culture and its stylistic elements somewhat tautologically as indices of such groups. 
Research in anthropology and art history has of course shown that the social and 
cultural significance of patterns far transcends such indexicality. Washburn (1999), 
for example has argued that the symmetry of decorative patterns may embody cen- 
tral cultural concepts, while Cell's (1998) theory of art's agency demonstrates how 
patterns can be viewed as material extensions of socially constituted agency. Recent 
innovative approaches, for example Stafford (2007) and Kiichler (2005), see patterns 
as loci of cognition external to the human mind. As these studies have demonstrated, 
anthropologists (and art historians) have only begun to grasp the manifold, complex 
role of patterns in creating and sustaining social process. 

Like all the contributors to this volume I wish to explore how an anthropologi- 
cal focus on individuals may provide an innovative starting point for exploring and 
understanding the relationship between the individual and society, and for exploring 
the cultural orders they live by. Thus, the question that ultimately concerns me here 
is what we may gain from expanding the focus on patterns and their significance 
for collective entities — for sustaining collective values, extending generalized so- 
cial agency or visualizing and maintaining cognitive structures — to focusing on the 
significance they may have from the perspective of the individual. In the following, 
therefore, I shall explore a body of patterns by focusing on the design process in 
which they come into being. More specifically, I focus on bogolan cloth, a hand- 
made, hand-decorated cloth from Mali, and the design practices within a community 
of bogolan artisans that I observed during my doctoral research on the cloth and its 
contemporary significance. 1 What emerges from my analysis, however, is not an 


38 • Anthropology and the Individual 

account intended to redress the collectivist orientation in the study of decorative 
patterns. I do not intend to show the idiosyncratic meaning or significance that the 
experience of designing a pattern by definition has to the individual. Rather, start- 
ing with the design process allows for an exploration of an aesthetic order in which 
the individual and society are not treated as two distinct analytical perspectives, but 
instead appear as aspects of each other. 

The use of plant and mineral dyes for cloth decoration has a long history in the 
area that today is known as the Republic of Mali. One type of such cloth, known as 
bogdlanfini (Brett-Smith 1982a,b, 1984; Duponchel 2004), has historically played 
an important role among the Bamana, the dominant ethnic group in Mali. Bamana 
women used plant dyes and mud rich in iron oxide to decorate cotton cloths with 
intricate, symbolically significant motifs, wearing them during significant stages of 
their life such as excision and childbirth, and Bamana hunters used the technique to 
decorate their hunting garments. In both cases the cloths were seen to facilitate life 
and prosperity through the containment and control of the powerful life force that was 
believed to permeate the world. This use of the cloth and its concomitant cosmology 
has diminished steadily throughout years of French colonial rule, increasing numbers 
of conversions to Islam, modernization and national independence. Today the pro- 
duction and use of bogdlanfini is limited to some of the more remote parts of the 
country. In the wake of this diminishing significance, however, the dyeing technique 
has proliferated into a number of new incarnations, which are generally referred to 
as bogolan. The technique has been used by artists as a new, creative medium and 
by a number of artisans who produce cloth for sale both within Mali, where it re- 
mains a popular fabric for garments, and internationally where it is appreciated for 
its African-ness. Awareness of the cloth has been established by a number of Malian 
musicians who wear the cloth during concerts, and by fashion designers. It has be- 
come an emblem of Mali as a modern nation-state and is a ubiquitous visual element 
in the street life of many urban settings as it is worn by the fashion-minded Malians 
or displayed by vendors catering to tourists (Duponchel 1995; Rovine 2001). 

The provincial town of San, where I carried out a large part of my research, has a 
population of around 30,000 people and is the centre of commercial bogolan produc- 
tion. All the major bogolan merchants — whose biggest market is the export market — 
commission a large part of their stock in San, and the town's artisans are appreciated 
by the merchants for their large and ever-changing range of cloth designs. Brett- 
Smith has suggested that San's geographical location and political economic history 
were important factors in its development as the centre for contemporary commercial 
bogolan production (Brett-Smith n.d.: 150). Historically the town occupied a promi- 
nent position in the regional and supra-regional exchange of salt, kola nuts, gold, 
horses and slaves (Mann 2006: 24), and its present-day strategic position — close to 
the intersection of Mali's main highway and the road leading south towards Burkina 
Faso — is a decisive factor for the continued importance of trade to San. The sporadic 
sources suggest that San's commercial bogolan production started in the late 1960s 

'Making Things Come Out' • 39 

or early 1970s when local Marka women began using vegetable and mineral dyes in 
innovative ways to produce and sell fabric intended for apparel, as well as buying 
and re-selling cloth from rural Bamana women living on the other side of the nearby 
Bani river. 2 The concentration of production in one particular neighbourhood in San, 
the Misira, is no coincidence: the artisans of the Misira are relatives of these original 
Marka traders and have maintained and expanded the commercial relationships that 
their kinsmen established years ago. There are more than a hundred workshops in 
San, but many of them produce only sporadically as supply far outstretches demand. 
The artisans in Misira, however, are always busy. 

One of San's oldest neighbourhoods, lying directly north of the town's beauti- 
ful mosque, the Misira consists of the characteristic adobe houses, laid out in the 
strict grid pattern — series of squares of rectangular blocks of compounds, surrounded 
by unpaved streets — that are common in former French colonies. A mere seventeen 
blocks, the neighbourhood is nevertheless home to more than twenty workshops. 
Within just one block are eight different workshops, and in the immediately sur- 
rounding blocks another five, all run by kinsmen of the Marka traders who first took 
up production and trade in the 1960s and 1970s. Walking through Misira is an intense 
visual experience. Bogdlan production requires space — to decorate cloths or to leave 
them out to dry during the various stages of production — and for the successful arti- 
sans working on commissions of more than a hundred pieces of cloth at a time, the 
space of the compound will not do. The open square in the neighbourhood, which 
every Thursday is the arena for local football matches, also provides the luxury of an 
abundance of space for those artisans whose houses are located right on the square, 
while others have to contend with working in little shacks outside their compounds. 
They, along with anyone else who has run out of space in the compound, leave their 
pieces out in the street either on the ground, where the chicken will traverse them 
frequently, hanging over a low wall, draped over an old horse cart that is not in use, or 
hung over the occasional clothes line. Thus everywhere one encounters the familiar 
sight of cloths and their characteristic earth colours. Walking through the Misira one 
constantly passes artisans working outside their compounds, catches a glimpse of 
them carrying out their various chores inside the compounds and now and then passes 
a door left open to the storerooms full of the dried n 'galama leaves and wolo bark that 
are used to make the yellow and red dyes. Every Monday and Thursday the merchants 
send commissions to the artisans in San on the bus, and one catches the familiar sight 
of a white canvas sack, with a workshop patron's name and the quantity of the com- 
mission written on it, on the donkey carts that take the sacks from the bus station to 
the workshops. Monday is also market day in San, and rural women, carrying their 
large sacks of n 'galama and wolo on their heads, go from workshop to workshop in 
the Misira hoping that some of them need to buy fresh supplies this week. 

This ubiquity of visual elements and the bustling carrying back and forth of mate- 
rials that was such an integral part of the Misira's street life is one reason I find Rosa- 
lind Krauss's (1986) concept of an aesthetic economy so compelling. As decorative 

40 • Anthropology and the Individual 

features of the neighbourhood that gives it its distinct character, their presence also 
speaks unanimously to many people's dependence on creating aesthetically pleas- 
ing cloths for procuring a livelihood. And in this process stencils, cloth, labour and 
materials circulate continuously between kinsmen and neighbours in the different 
workshops, tying them together in bonds of economic reciprocity that made my at- 
tempts at conducting income surveys and calculating workshop profits something 
of a challenge. But Krauss's notion is also useful for enabling a more complicated 
understanding of the creative practices involved in production, however commer- 
cial and economically crucial it is. Krauss used the notion to expose the rhetoric of 
the avant-garde — and modernist art in general — and its self-celebratory claims to 
originality. Such claims, and their concomitant contempt for repetition, she argues, 
were not only bound together in a particular aesthetic economy, 'interdependent and 
mutually sustaining, although the one — originality — is the valorised term and the 
other — repetition or copy or reduplication — is discredited' (Krauss 1986: 160). But 
they also, by extension, entail a certain blindness or refusal to address the endless 
instances of material and conceptual replication that were the necessary precondition 
for originality, as for example when Rodin's genius was celebrated posthumously 
through the replication of his work (Krauss 1986: 151), or when various modernist 
artists 'enact [their] originality in the creation of grids' (Krauss 1986: 160). Krauss's 
argument, that it is the artist's own self rather than any property of the artwork that 
guarantees its originality, resonates with other scholars arguing that the very notion 
of the lone artistic genius, and the dichotomy between originality and repetition, is 
closely tied to the rise of a peculiarly modern conception of the human subject that 
may not be particularly well suited for understanding personhood and creative prac- 
tice as they exist elsewhere in time and space (Ingold 2000: 350; Ingold and Hallam 
2007). But her notion of an aesthetic economy is also a useful analytical construct 
for grasping the configuration of repetition and originality in the context I describe, 
where the terms 'innovation' and 'copying' are used so frequently but with very dif- 
ferent connotations than those familiar to most Western readers. 

The artisans in San place great value on designing a cloth pattern. This value, 
however, is restricted to the design process as an intellectual process and does not 
necessarily include its material execution, which, in fact, is preferably left to those 
of junior status. The term used for this intellectual endeavour is 'innovation' and its 
materialization as a finished piece of cloth is referred to as a 'model' (modeli). The 
connotations of this term are different from the conventional Western ones which, as 
a quick survey of the Oxford English Dictionary will confirm, are to a conceptual, 
mental or material representation or depiction of something else. A model among the 
artisans denotes instead this act of invention itself. I often witnessed people, who 
entered a workshop and encountered a design that was unknown to them, asking 
who had 'made' a particular piece of cloth, a question that was always framed as jon 
modeli don?, 'whose model is it?', not who made it (jon y 'a ke). The person who has 
'authored' a design is referred to as the natigi, literally the head from which it comes. 

'Making Things Come Out' • 41 

The value of designs clearly has a commercial component. Patrons, those who have 
a workshop and employ others to make cloths, may achieve a name for themselves 
among artisans and merchants as capable of providing a variety of new designs, 
something which is believed to appeal to clients, thus acquiring fame through a pro- 
cess of exchange in ways that seem to resemble the Kula exchange described by 
Malinowski (1922). But there is an additional aspect to the notion of a model that 
pertains to the ontology of design as a creative process. Although all the artisans 
insist that the natigi of a particular design can always be traced, they all admit that 
such an endeavour would require significant time and effort, and no one really ever 
embarks on such a task. The relevance of articulating authorship by designating a 
design a model arises instead within a socio-spatial matrix as it posits that a model 
is designed by a particular person and not by somebody else. The significance of this 
seemingly banal claim to originality becomes clear when it is placed in its practical- 
material context. There it becomes evident that the terms (model and innovation), as 
they are used to refer to the design process, articulate copying as the foundation of 
originality, while simultaneously insisting on the uniqueness of the design arrived at. 
Let me explain what I mean by this. 

As already mentioned, cloths are dyed and then decorated with hand-drawn or 
stencilled motifs. When making designs by hand the artisans use a paintbrush and 
mud to draw thick lines on the cloth which has been soaked in a natural dye that acts 
as a mordent for the mud, fixing its contents of iron-oxide onto the cloth as a black 
colour once it is washed. The cloth is made of pieces of strip-cloth that are stitched 
together, and the artisans use the stitch-lines that consequently run down the cloth as 
a grid for the design. As they work on the design from one corner of the cloth, they 
start out by dividing it into borders by applying straight lines on top of the stitch- 
lines. Within these borders they create geometric features by drawing rectangular 
and diagonal lines and repeating them across the border. They then elaborate these 
further into particular motif elements and then either combine two different borders 
or repeat the same border across the cloth (Figure 3.1). 

Stencilled motifs are applied to the cloth by cutting a shape in plastic, placing it 
on the cloth and applying mud on top of the stencil (Figure 3.2). It is at this stage of 
the production process, when the mud is applied, that the structure of the finished 
designed is determined. Additional colours are applied to the cloth once the mud 
has been washed off and it has dried. But when the artisans talk about a model they 
are referring exclusively to this basic structure of the design that is made with the 
first layer of mud. And while they refer to this process as innovation, the application 
of the other colours is instead described as imitation because, as they explained to 
me, the person carrying out the work is merely executing a design according to the 
natigi's intentions. 

The nature of the decorating process has particular implications for the replication 
and consequently the dissemination of motifs and designs: acquiring the necessary 
decorating skills for applying the first layer of mud and thus making a model is 

42 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 3.1 A schematic rendition of a piece of cloth and its patterns, consisting of five pieces of strip- 
cloth. The thin black lines within the cloth are the stitch-lines, upon which the artisans draw a line with 
the mud (thicker black line) to make up borders across the cloth. Within these borders they combine 
rectangular and parallel lines to make up various motifs, which they repeat across the cloth. 

relatively simple, and experienced artisans possess the skills to replicate any hand- 
drawn design they encounter. Stencilled motifs are easily reproduced, since although 
harder to copy just from sight, the actual stencils circulate constantly between work- 
shops (Figures 3.2 and 3.3). Moreover, the visibility of the cloths in the Misira means 
that motifs are not only technically replicable but also accessible for the artisans. 
And in fact motifs are constantly replicated and disseminated. Within workshops the 
recurrence of the same motifs in different artisans' designs is high, and one can gen- 
erally map the social distance or proximity between workshops (i.e. whether there 
are kinship ties or ties of neighbourliness between them) by looking at the recurrence 
of motifs in designs. 3 

That this recurrence is the result of active practices of copying elements from 
other artisans' designs is clear from watching the work going on in a workshop and 
the interaction between workshops: artisans, when starting a new design, always 
look up and around, see what other artisans are working on at the time being and 
then copy elements of their designs and combine them with elements of their own 
previous designs (Figures 3.4 and 3.5). Likewise, close kin or neighbours come into 

'Making Things Come Out' • 43 

Figure 3.2 An example of how stencils circulate between workshops, and kinsmen and neighbours. 
The artisan is using stencils borrowed from her patron's son, thus copying motifs from one of the latter's 
models, the one seen in Figure 3.3. 

a workshop, look around, and often elements seen in one workshop begin to appear 
in this other workshop. 

The models depicted in Figure 3.4 and in Figure 3.5 are decorated by two differ- 
ent artisans working in the same workshop within a time-span of 45 minutes. Hawa 
decorated the cloth depicted here and then put it out in the sun to dry. As she did this, 
Koti started working on the model shown in Figure 3.5. As we see, she has used the 
X-shape from Hawa's design as well as the cross-hatched shapes, then changed the 
additional elements slightly and combined them with a different, thinner border be- 
tween the main borders. 

Previously unseen motifs occasionally enter this aesthetic economy as some arti- 
sans occasionally do look beyond this proximity for new motifs. The nature of this 
process is beyond the scope of this chapter, and I have discussed it in more detail 
elsewhere (Olesen 2007), but suffice to state here that although such new motifs 
quickly undergo the same process of being incorporated into new design configura- 
tions, their interest in introducing such motifs is marginal compared to the inter- 
est in copying already existing motifs. By the same token, while the artisans could 
design new cloths exclusively by re-combining the elements they have been work- 
ing with already, they never do that. And although all patrons have piles of stencils 
tucked away in their houses, such stencils are never brought out into the courtyards 
for everyone to rummage through. Rather, only a few stencils at a time circulate 

44 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 3.3 Another example of how stencils circulate between workshops, and kinsmen and neigh- 
bours. A young male artisan decorated this cloth using stencils that he later lent to one of his mother's 
workers (Figure 3.2). 

'Making Things Come Out' • 45 

Figure 3.4 An example of the innovation-through-copying that I am describing. 

Figure 3.5 Koti's model, made shortly after Hawa finished the model depicted in Figure 3.4. 

46 • Anthropology and the Individual 

between artisans. Thus, to sum up, the orientation in the design process is towards 
artisans in one's social proximity. 

At the same time, the outcome of this design process is articulated, as already 
mentioned, as innovation as well as with reference to difference or uniqueness rather 
than similarity. In the beginning of my fieldwork, when I was struggling to under- 
stand the logic of this creative process I had numerous discussions with the artisans 
in which I tried to frame my enquiries into the rationale of innovation by pointing 
out that many models looked a lot alike, an argument that never failed to surprise 
them since, in their eyes, all the designs were different. When I qualified myself by 
pointing out that many models contained the same decorative elements, some of 
them eventually began to grasp what I was trying to say. But in the end, they always 
qualified their agreement by stating that a be bolen, nka kelen te, that is they look 
like each other — but they are not the same. In their view, although the same motifs 
appear over and over on different models, they always appear in new combinations, 
and they see no contradiction between this fact, the uniqueness of all models, and the 
way in which they describe their design practices as innovative. 

Anthropologists working in West Africa often use phrases such as 'relational self 
(Piot 1999) or 'relational individualism' (Shaw 2000) to describe the conceptions of 
self that prevail in the social life of the people with whom they work, and to how 
an individual self takes an explicitly relational form in many African settings. The 
point is not that people experience self only in terms of a de-individuated collective, 
as suggested in some earlier work (e.g. Tempels 1959), but that local conceptions of 
the individual self entail a sense of inherent existence within a larger relational field. 
This ontological priority of social relationships, it has been argued, makes the ana- 
lytical distinction between individual and society highly problematic for understand- 
ing these life-worlds. A profoundly modern (and Western) dichotomy, some have 
argued (e.g. Carrithers, Collins and Lukes 1985; Kondo 1990) it also posits society 
as consisting of a group of individuals defined by their inherent properties. As Adams 
and Dzokoto have argued, by granting the individual analytical primacy, 'social rela- 
tionships are treated as a secondary product, not necessarily in the sense of being less 
valued but nevertheless as being derived or manufactured' (Adams and Dzokoto 2003: 
346, my emphasis). Shaw's comparative discussion of bodily metaphors among the 
Temne in Sierra Leone provides an exemplary illustration of the difference between 
a Western conception of individualism and the relational individualism found among 
the Temne. The Temne use a number of metaphors, such as being bad-hearted (i.e. 
jealous), a characterization that at first seems no different from the Anglo-American 
description of someone as hard-hearted. However, where the latter is thought of as a 
'personality trait', an inner tribute of that person, bad-hearted-ness is seen as an at- 
tribute that derives from the capacity for relationships, a person's capacity to relate 
to others, rather than from an inner essence (Shaw 2000: 40-1). 

There are numerous works that demonstrate the implications of this relational on- 
tology and the way in which no interior entity exists which sets apart the experienc- 
ing self and exterior, as it pertains to people's relationship to other people, to place 

'Making Things Come Out' • 47 

and to spiritual forces (e.g. Fortes 1949; Jackson 1982). This, however, is not due 
to some innate, homogenous African-ness but is differently configured throughout 
the continent and often the historical product of slave trade and warfare (Miers and 
Kopytoff 1977). And neither does such a relational ontology preclude individualistic 
behaviour. In fact, competition and emphasis on individual difference are prevalent 
among the Mande, the cultural group to which most of Mali's ethnic groups belong. 4 
Bird and Kendall argue that competition is dynamic and inherent to Mande identity. 
The terms fadenya (father-child-ness) and badenya (mother-child-ness) articulate the 
social foundation and dynamic of this competition and the conflict arising from a 
hierarchical social structure where status is valued yet attained through the control of 
others and one is supposed to succumb to the needs of the social group. Thus, attain- 
ing status almost necessarily involves a measure of selfish behaviour and disrespect 
for the demands of one's kin. Likewise, the terms articulate the inherent tension in 
a polygamous patrilineal society where rivalry between half-siblings is inevitable 
(Bird and Kendall 1980). The term fadenya is used generally to refer to competition 
in Mali today, and the bogolan artisans often use the term to describe how they work. 
Interestingly, Grosz-Ngate has suggested that in everyday life among the Bamana of 
Sana a common instantiation of such competition is the assertion of selfhood through 
a principle of differentiation. Thus, she argues, 'an individual does not become a per- 
son on his/her own, but by differentiating him/herself from others in her/her conduct 
and activities' (Grosz-Ngate 1989: 172). People who stand out in their relations with 
others and in being sincere may acquire the name maa sebe, a sincere person, just as 
a woman can rise above the disadvantages of her gender by excelling in her tasks and 
earn the appellate muso seben. 

These discussions of relational selves and relational individualism cast interest- 
ing light on the design practices that I have described and the aesthetic economy in 
which they take place. What may at first seem like a contradiction between copying 
and originality may instead be viewed as what one could call a relational original- 
ity where the particular or unique is conceived as a product of a totality and where 
origins is sought with reference to a wider social field. The notion of model itself 
actually nicely illustrates this. As mentioned earlier on, a model is by definition in- 
novative and by extension different from everybody else's. But when the artisans 
elaborate on the innovative nature of models their explanations always articulate the 
uniqueness of a model as a relational phenomenon. Often such explanations empha- 
size an almost extreme uniqueness of a model as derived solely from the individual. 
As one artisan put it, 'when you sit down to make a design you draw what is in 
your head. And what is in one person's head is different from what is in another 
person's — that's why models are all different.' Yet the same artisan would inter- 
changeably emphasize the relational nature of such difference by explaining that 'if 
someone makes a design and somebody sees it and copies it then we say that this is 
that person's model.' Thus, while designs are considered unique, this uniqueness is 
articulated with reference to other models or, more precisely, to other people's mod- 
els. That such articulations reflect a relational ontology is perhaps best illustrated by 

48 • Anthropology and the Individual 

the term that the artisans used for innovation. It is ka fenw bo nyogon ma — to make 
things come out from the others. 

These insights are additionally interesting because of the light they cast on the 
individual practices of innovation-through-copying that I described earlier on, that 
is the very conscious and intentional copying of motifs from artisans in one's social 
proximity. As I also described, there is a general concern among the artisans, their 
kinsmen, friends and neighbours, basically anyone in the Misira who is familiar 
with bogdlan production, towards the origins of cloth designs. People constantly 
enquire about the natigi of models that are unfamiliar to them. Likewise, in cases 
where particular models are reproduced over longer periods of time, mainly because 
they had been commissioned by a client, the artisans would keep referring to such 
models with reference to their natigi. In one particular instance the head of a work- 
shop wanted to know if one of her workers knew a particular model. Since she had 
no photo of it she described it briefly and then added that it was the one that was 
Hawa's (one of her workers) model, but the one that Sarata (another worker) usu- 
ally made. As I described there is little interest in incorporating new (i.e. previously 
unseen) stylistic elements into the design process. Rather, innovation takes place 
through copying those in one's social proximity in a way that resonates with the 
principle of differentiation described by Grosz-Ngate in which the assertive behav- 
iour of the individual is competitively oriented towards socially relevant others. In 
Grosz-Ngate's account these socially relevant others are those of the individual's 
own gender or own age set, over and against whose actions one may assert oneself as 
a good woman or a good youngster. As I have described, the source for the artisans' 
models, their originality, are exactly those with whom they interact or work closely. 
And, by extension, those against whom their work can, and will, be evaluated and 
ascertained as different and therefore innovative. The orientation towards others' 
work and the concern with copying their particular work in the creation of one's own 
unique model thus both reflect the relational nature of selfhood and creative practice 
as well as the assertive nature of selfhood that defines itself against socially relevant 
others in ongoing competition through differentiation. The result is the continuous 
production of constantly reconfigured designs that are celebrated as being different. 

I began this chapter with the observation that while the study of design is closely 
linked to that of individuals, the study of patterns tends to focus on their significance 
for collective entities. Focusing instead on the individual and the design process 
involved in making bogdlan cloths, I showed how an ensemble of seemingly very 
similar patterns is the outcome not of individual execution according to visually pre- 
figured designs, or collective values about what such designs should look like, but 
of individuals' creative practices, their assertions of individuality. Yet, the similarity 
between patterns is not culturally and socially arbitrary. As I showed, the modality 
of innovation, of copying motifs from those in one's social proximity, when placed 
within a context of relational individualism and assertive competition found in the 
Mande world, reveal themselves as profoundly social assertions to individuality. 

'Making Things Come Out' • 49 


1. The material included here derives from neldwork carried out between 2003 and 
2005 for my Ph.D. 

2. In San the ethnic label 'Marka', or 'Markadialan', refers to those of the town's 
population who consider themselves its indigenous inhabitants but nevertheless 
are of diverse ethnic origins (Kamian 1959). My Markadialan informants are 
less concerned with origins than with asserting an urban, Muslim and trading 
identity that distinguish them from the surrounding rural, often Bamana, farming 

3. While the Bamana term for neighbour (siginyogdn) denotes people occupying 
an adjoining or nearby house or dwelling, the notion of neighbourliness (sig- 
inyogonya) designates the bonds of reciprocity that people develop with the 
neighbours and others in their social vicinity. 

4. 'Mande' is a broadly inclusive term for labelling peoples, languages and cultures 
with common origins in the Mali empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centu- 
ries in the Western Sudan. 


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sity Press. 

50 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Gell, A. (1998), Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Clarendon 

Grosz-Ngate, M. (1989), 'Hidden Meanings: Explorations into a Bamanan Construc- 
tion of Gender', Ethnology, 28(2): 167-83. 

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try', American Anthropologist, 101(3): 547-62. 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism: 

The 'Greek House' in Albania 

as a Material Process 

Dimitris Dalakoglou 

This chapter addresses two major themes: migration from Albania to Greece and 
the ordering capacities of material culture in the transnational 1 practices of Albanian 
migrants. It examines a house built in Albania by an Albanian migrant who resides 
permanently in Greece. This house belongs to Fatos 2 who calls it 'a Greek house'. 3 
Despite the semantic and material contradictions embedded in it, Fatos's house in Al- 
bania and its construction brings the totality of his contradictory, fluid and sometimes 
paradoxical migratory everyday life into a unique and sensible system of reference. 
The ordering of this fluid everydayness through these houses explains in part why so 
many Albanian migrants build dwellings in Albania even though they do not reside 
in the country or have any intention to return there permanently. 

Space-Culture Isomorphism 

Until recently, most anthropologists classified cultures and their socio-cultural for- 
mations (e.g. artefacts, kinship systems or habiti) according to statically perceived 
spaces. 4 This static and universal type of space was named 'isotropic' and 'infinite 
space' by Lefebvre (1991: 1-9) and 'neutral space' 5 by Tilley (1994: 7-11). 6 Gupta 
and Ferguson (1992) have termed this close deterministic association between static 
spaces and cultural formations 'space-culture isomorphism'. The legacy of space- 
culture isomorphism implies a theoretical problem for anthropology until today. 
During the 1990s Gupta and Ferguson (1992: 14) explained: 'The problem for an- 
thropologists is to use our encounter with "them", "there" to construct a "critique of 
our own society", here'. But a further puzzle was added: what happens when 'they' 
are not 'there' anymore, but 'here'? Or if they are both 'here' and 'there'? What hap- 
pens when the anthropological subject migrates? The space-culture isomorphism 
of the past suggested that members of a group have common characteristics and 
behaviours due to their origin or residence (or other associations) in a static place. 


52 • Anthropology and the Individual 

So, according to an 'old-style' reading of space-culture isomorphism, a Kabyle builds 
a Kabyle house (Bourdieu 1973); an Albanian normally builds an 'Albanian house' 
and a Greek a 'Greek house'. According to several authors (e.g. Urry 2007), how- 
ever, we are today in an era of extended spatial mobility where increasing numbers of 
people have multiple and mixed spatial-cultural references, causing spatial-cultural 

An example of these paradoxes is Fatos's house in Northern Albania, which Fatos 
occasionally calls 'a Greek house'; this house expresses a dynamic relationship be- 
tween the two sites. Part of the same contradictory picture is the extensive number of 
houses which are constructed in Greece but by Albanians, as construction is the main 
form of employment for Albanian migrants in the country, 7 including Fatos. While 
the phenomenon of the multiple and mixed spatial-cultural references of Albanian 
migrants in Greece is more complex than the way it has been presented above, this 
text aims to illuminate some of these complexities in the case of home and house- 
building process. 

This becomes the point of entry for a material culture analysis. Focusing not only 
on the person but also on one of the key components of their material culture — the 
house and domestic aesthetics — allows us to go beyond a dualism of 'Greek' versus 
'Albanian', the individual against the collective or the single location against mobil- 
ity. In the process, we can hope to achieve a more nuanced sense of the relationships 
between these elements. This chapter views the house as the main instrument with 
which, in practice, Albanian migrants resolve the tensions implied by these dual- 
isms (regardless of whether these dualisms are fictional or pragmatic). In celebrated 
examples, such as the Kabyle (Bourdieu 1973: 98-110, 1977) or even Cell's (1998: 
251-8) Maori meeting house, the house is perceived as the very basis of our sense of 
spatial immobility. Carsten and Hugh- Jones (1995: 37) put it explicitly: 'the build- 
ings are portrayed as relatively fixed and permanent.' The case presented here is 
somewhat different: it follows a perception of the house as a material process, an 
idea that was suggested by several authors (e.g. Carsten and Hugh- Jones 1995; Bu- 
chli 1999; Miller 2001). In the case of the current chapter, it is the house as process 
that symbolizes, facilitates and incorporates mobility but also a type of fixity. The 
individual; the family and larger community; the migratory experience in both the 
destination and the place of origin and the maintenance of transnational networks 
between the two all find a material articulation within this house. When it is seen as 
a process the house of Fatos in Albania becomes an ordered and ordering articulation 
of a spatially mobile and multi-sited migratory life. 

Migration to Greece 

Fatos was born in a small Christian Catholic village near Shkoder (Northern Alba- 
nia), thirty-seven years ago. Although his family's immobile property was confis- 
cated in the 1940s, they kept their pre-socialist stone-built 8 house where he grew up. 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 53 

Eventually, in 1990, when the borders with Greece opened, he went there on foot. 
Poor, exhausted and with no papers (not even a passport), yet still optimistic, he ini- 
tially accepted any job offered to him for very little money. 9 After travelling around 
Greece and experiencing the aggression of Greek police, he ended up on the periph- 
ery of Athens where he worked as a builder, eventually starting his own construction 
firm a few years later. 

Before leaving Albania, he married Adelina, a girl from his village, who was 
pregnant when he left. A few years later when, after much delay, the Greek govern- 
ment finally established a migration policy, he was able to legalize his existence 
there. Consequently, his professional life became more stable and in due course 
he arranged the necessary documentation for his wife and daughter to join him. In 
Greece they had one more child, a son, and today they live permanently in one of the 
southern suburbs of Athens. In Greece, Adelina works as a cleaning lady, sometimes 
in the houses that her husband has built. Their children are at school. The entire 
family visits the village in Northern Albania three times a year on average, but Fatos 
returns more frequently for building work on their house. 

The Table 

For many years, the family has been renting an apartment in Greece that Fatos reno- 
vated himself. He agreed with the owner of the building that he himself would re- 
furbish it in exchange for a reduced rent. The layout of the building does not differ 
much from most other lower-middle-class homes in the area. Their first- (and top-) 
floor apartment comprises two sitting-rooms, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, 
a storage room, balconies along a backyard and a garage. The ground floor is a shop, 
used by the Greek owner of the building. Fatos and Adelina's apartment already had 
some decoration and furniture, which the couple then supplemented. Out of all the 
decoration in the apartment, this discussion will focus on a coffee-table. In the room 
Adelina calls the 'everyday sitting-room' (in contrast to the 'good sitting-room' 10 
which is used when they have visitors), there are sofas, armchairs, a television and a 
short coffee-table (Figure 4.1). This table is identical to one they have in their home 
in Albania (Figure 4.2). 

This house, in Albania, which they own and is built partly with his own personal 
labour, is, as he calls it, 'a Greek house', while Adelina talked about 'Greek aesthet- 
ics' 11 in reference to it. It has been under unceasing construction for the last ten years: 
it is three stories high, but at present only the ground floor is finished, and while 
the other two floors have a solid framework with plumbing and electricity it so far 
constitutes a small apartment within what will become a bigger house. This smaller, 
completed section of the building has a similar layout to the apartment in Athens and 
the great majority (if not all) of the decorative elements, from the kitchen furniture 
and appliances to the floor tiles and the paint on the walls, have been brought from 
Greece by Fatos over the previous eleven years. 

54 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 4.1 The coffee-table in the home in Athens. 

Figure 4.2 An identical table as sofra in the home in Albania. 

Among these items from Greece is the low table, identical to the one the fam- 
ily has in their apartment in Greece. In the house in Albania the coffee-table is not 
located in front of sofas, like its 'twin' in the Athens apartment. Instead, it is located 
in one corner of the sitting-room, where there is a low-built bench (35cm high) 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 55 

covered with cushions purchased in Greece and wrapped in "traditional" Albanian 
woollen covers (Figures 4.1 and 4.2). This is a reproduction of the traditional sofra, 
found not only in the Balkans but also in places such as Anatolia, the Middle East 
and North Africa. Usually the sofra is a round low table, which was typically found 
in much of rural Albania until the 1970s and was used by people squatting or sitting 
on cushions, low benches or short-legged chairs. In urban areas, even before social- 
ism, the sofra was gradually being replaced by tall tables. The sofra, according to 
Fatos and Adelina respectively, is an 'Albanian thing' 12 and a 'traditional Albanian 
table'. 13 

This 'Albanian thing' appears to be the most mobile piece of furniture in their 
home. The table is regularly moved from the corner where the low benches stand to 
the other corner of the room, and is thus transformed into a coffee-table in front of 
the sofa, as is its twin table in their home in Greece (Figure 4.3). Adelina, when in 
Albania, does this habitually, and even when Fatos is there without her he is com- 
pelled to move the table, sometimes under her instruction via telephone depending 
on the occasion. A similar process takes place in relation to the cushions, bought 
from a well-known domestic soft furnishings chain in Greece but covered in Albania 
with woollen pillowcases. Ultimately, the entire domestic space itself is like this little 

Figure 4.3 The table moved in front of the sofa where we are sitting. In the background is the corner 
where it is used with the sofra layout. The picture also shows Fatos's parents. 

56 • Anthropology and the Individual 

table which is frequently moved from its position next to the low benches, then to 
the sofa, and then back again, depending on the particular aesthetic result the house- 
hold members prefer. Sometimes it has an 'Albanian' layout, at some other times 
a 'Greek' one; however, it dynamically incorporates the experiences of the couple 
in both Albania and Greece. There is also a direct link with the very materiality of 
their house. Its gradual and fragmented construction on the one hand means that the 
couple do not hold the necessary capital to complete the house at once, yet on the 
other hand this gradual and constant building develops in parallel to what happens in 
their everyday life in Greece. For example, the more they earn in Greece at certain 
times, the more they spend on their house, and vice versa. 

Materials, Techniques, Walls and Technicians 

This house is created according to developments in Greece but also has direct links 
with the migratory destination: its administrators and actual constructors live there 
while the money and the building materials flow from Greece. In fact, the entire 
house is gradually flowing in from Greece, part by part. Occasionally, Fatos travels 
with the materials and not the materials with Fatos, as he often argues that there are 
times he goes to Albania only in order to carry some of them. 

Over the last ten years, he has organized more than ten large-scale expeditions to 
transport materials, 14 renting trucks along with his own professional vehicle, which 
he fills with tons of materials before driving them to Albania. At the same time, 
he always brings something 'for the house' (i.e. construction materials or furniture 
and decorations) along with gifts for his people when he travels there for holidays. 
As a building contractor, he is able to buy the materials at a good price. The trans- 
portation incurs additional costs despite the better prices for materials, because the 
trip between his village and the suburbs of Athens takes more than ten hours by 
car, but Fatos dismisses this cost. When the issue of transportation costs came up, 
Fatos claimed that another reason he prefers materials from Greece is because he has 
greater faith in the Greek market, arguing that in the recent past it has been difficult 
to find the proper 'good materials' in Albania. 

However, there is a pattern here reminiscent of the Greek cushions covered with 
Albanian woollen cases. Although most of the materials came from Greece, one 
material important for the appearance of the house comes from Albania — the stone 
on the surface of the external walls of the house. Today, the ground floor's external 
walls are covered with stones (Figure 4.4.), and in the future Fatos plans to cover 
the entire house in stone. These stones are the result of the extensive excavation of 
the hill where the house is located. They are used both in the surfacing of the house 
walls and also in the large enclosure. Although this house is being built with materi- 
als coming from Greece, it is covered with 'Albanian' stone, yet at the same time the 
same 'Albanian' stone is used for the enclosure wall which distinguishes it from its 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 57 

Figure 4.4 The 'Greek house' in Albania. The foreground shows the vegetable garden and a corner of 
the swimming pool. The background shows the surrounding fence and wall. 

Albanian surroundings. This repeats the scheme of the table aesthetics: this house 
may be given a clear-cut characterization as 'Greek' but it combines both Greek and 
Albanian elements, occasionally in a contradictory pattern. 

Besides the 'Greek' materials, there are also the 'Greek' techniques used in Fa- 
tos's house. Fatos was not a builder in Albania; he learned the craft in Greece from 
a Greek ' mastoras' , 15 named Kostas. Generally, in Greece, formal training in the 
construction sector is very limited. The majority of builders learn the craft from 
someone who has been in the profession longer. Later, Fatos taught the craft to his 
brother and his Albanian best man, and today they co-own a small building firm in 
Greece. Occasionally, other men from his village work under Fatos's supervision 
in Greece when he runs larger projects. Fatos's small business is successful, partly 
because he has competitive prices but mostly due to his good reputation. He is aware 
of his reputation and he explains that his own house is 'Greek' because he has a su- 
perior knowledge of the construction techniques used in the neighbouring country. 
He accomplishes further 'technical' links between Greece and his house. He often 
relates particular decorative or technical features of his house to projects he has built 
in Greece. For instance, the interior walls of the ground-floor apartment are painted 
with a technique which he calls 'technotropia'. 16 He presented to me the technotro- 
pia he applied on the walls of his house by referring to a lawyer's house on the island 

58 • Anthropology and the Individual 

of Paros and a pharmacy in Omonoia Square in the centre of Athens where he had 
also applied it. 

Fatos even visualizes the technical link between Greece and his house in Albania. 
In his car, he carries a photo album of his buildings, which in Greece he uses for 
displaying his projects to his clients. However, when he travels to Albania the album 
also travels in the car; he has displayed his 'technotropia' and other techniques to me 
and to relatives but also to his Albanian colleagues, whom he appoints to complete 
numerous projects in his house. Fatos has one main group of builders he chooses to 
complete parts of his house: these are returnees who have previously worked for him 
in Greece. He usually supervises them from a distance, for example he often pays 
them some extra money in order to send him SMS photo messages of the various 
projects and he calls them to remind them about details. 

The materials he uses in his house are produced in or imported via Greece. Re- 
markably, Fatos ignores the distance between Athens and his Albanian village when 
he carries the materials. Arguably, this neglect bridges the distance between Athens 
and his village, attributing proximity between the two sites. At a metaphorical level, 
this neglect of distance makes his house look like it is located in Greece. However, 
he covers his house with Albanian stone, the same stone used in order to distinguish 
his house from its Albanian surroundings. 

Moreover, the 'Greek' techniques he refers to are not exactly located in Greece. 
Probably the techniques themselves have continuity and carry agency, yet this 
agency has mixed 'national' character because it is closely linked with the human 
agency. Although earlier versions of the various building techniques were initially 
taught to Albanian builders by Greek master-builders in the early 1990s, in Greece 
today the techniques' contemporary versions are usually applied by both Greek and 
Albanians, because construction is the main employment of Albanians in Greece. 
In some regions of the country, the majority of builders are from Albania. Although 
Fatos follows what he considers the more proper 'Greek' techniques, such as the 
'technotropia', these techniques are in fact shared practices because they are applied 
in both countries, by technicians of Albanian origin. In other words, it is not only the 
materials which flow from Greece to Albania. It is also the analogous techniques and 
knowledge, even though these cannot have a clear-cut nationality. Probably the most 
characteristic example of this phenomenon is linguistic. All the building terminol- 
ogy Fatos's team uses while at work is in Greek, although there are Albanian terms 
for some of the same items or practices; however, the rest of the discussion which 
involves these Greek terms is conducted in Albanian. 

Landscape and Infrastructure 

Fatos appears to want to give the house a type of autonomy from its physical sur- 
roundings, yet at other times uses the same spatial detachment practices to 'relocate' 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 59 

it back to its physical surroundings in Albania. The house is located on a hill, next to 
the home of his parents, where he grew up. This hill is part of the land which used 
to belong to his kinship group ( fis) before 1945. When he first proposed building his 
house in the 1990s, this hill was very steep and heavily wooded, and everyone in his 
fis tried to discourage him from building on it. Despite their misgivings, he insisted 
and eventually managed to build it on the hill. The area now occupied by the house 
had always been a wooded hill on the periphery of the village and at first it was im- 
possible for a bulldozer to reach it. Making it fit for a home required extensive man- 
ual work, i.e. digging and deforestation; in fact, Fatos made this place from scratch. 
He likes to emphasize that he created this house and land completely by himself, as 
he has everything else in his life, such as migrating to Greece, arranging the papers 
for his wife to join him, setting up the construction business and so on. 

Fatos also likes to highlight the difference between his home and plot in compari- 
son to its environment, which he does both verbally and in practice. Spatially, for 
instance, he has his house on a hill encircled by a high stone wall or wire netting, 
sometimes with trees planted parallel to it. He has extended the municipal road into 
his own plot and, although the municipal part is unsurfaced, he had his road section 
paved with cement and gravel. As one experiences the passage from the rocky ride 
on the unsurfaced and often muddy drive through the village towards his house, 
to the smooth feel of a cement-covered road heralded by a gated and fenced area 
surrounded with high trees, the difference is striking. Furthermore, the building is 
not connected to the public running water system: it has its own independent water 
reservoir, and no telephone land-line. 17 Nor is it connected to the public electricity 
network like the rest of the village; instead, it has its own petrol-fuelled electric gen- 
erator. Due to its location 'above the village', 18 when the area has one of its regular 
black-outs and Fatos is there, he likes to turn on the powerful spotlights in the yard; 
during these black-outs, his father calls the house 'the island'. 

Nevertheless, there is a contradiction embedded in these practices. When there is 
a black-out, the generator and the house's position on the hill makes it the only vis- 
ible house in the village, thus transforming it from its spatial and physical isolation 
to a central position in signifying its spatial surroundings. However, as it is the only 
house with electricity, this again implies a type of detachment. The same applies 
for the road, because although the surface is different, it is still an extension of the 
vehicular network of the village where he was raised. Moreover, although his plot is 
surrounded by a wall and a fence, it is located on a high hill on a plateau 'above the 
village' and therefore its physical isolation visually dominates the landscape of the 
entire settlement. 

This simultaneous and interchangeable detachment and relocation of Fatos's 
house in its physical surroundings also has a historical dimension. Although this is a 
'Greek house', it is very closely linked with the history of Fatos's family, and with 
the history of this plot in Northern Albania. This hill is part of a large expanse of 
land owned by Fatos's fis before the war, after which the socialist regime confiscated 

60 • Anthropology and the Individual 

it. Fatos's house affirms the social prestige of the entire kinship group through re- 
claiming their private immobile property and consequently his personal prestige as 
the most powerful man of his cohort. Today, the fis of Fatos is not taking any pos- 
sible type of legal action to reclaim their title to this land formally. Instead, they base 
their claim on the customary respect for immobile property in Northern Albania, 19 
as Fatos explained in 2006: 'We do not have to, everyone knows that it belongs to 
us. Hoxha 20 took it [the land] for forty years, but it belongs to us for a thousand 
years, nobody can claim it since we are here'. Indeed, the 'here' in this statement 
means the 'Greek house', as Fatos himself is in Greece most of the time. 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism 

People often use language derived from conventional static spatialities, for example 
terms inspired by the concept of the nation-state such as 'Greek' and 'Albanian', 
and consequently the ethnographer must also use them, although we are all aware of 
the potential paradox when these are employed within an increasingly mobile and 
transnational world. Fatos, for as long as he continues to work on his home in Alba- 
nia, will add features which he presents as 'Greek'. In 2007 for example he planted 
olive trees in his garden for future olive oil production and vines have been growing 
around the fence of the plot for the last two years. He plans to buy a barrel to begin 
producing retsina 21 (a type of Greek wine). He recently added a sizeable swimming 
pool in the yard, which is a popular architectural element in the seaside southern sub- 
urbs of Athens. Yet, next to the swimming pool, one finds something not seen in the 
Greek seaside suburbs' bourgeois houses: a small vegetable garden cared for by his 
father, which Fatos finds amusing (Figure 4.5). Emphasizing the aesthetic irony of 
this co-existence, he said to me once, laughing: 'An Albanian vegetable garden next 
to a Greek swimming pool [. . .] at least the garden contains some seeds and plants 
which are brought from Greece'. In a recent telephone discussion, Fatos spoke about 
his house in Albania and said jokingly: 'It has become a piece of Europe in Albania; 
I may rent one of the floors to an International Organization.' 22 The space-culture 
associations of his house have been upgraded from simply 'Greek' into 'European', 
and perhaps in the future will become even more 'Western,' like the cafe 'Americano' 
I saw in Tirane. Despite the vast amount of resources and energy put into this house, 
none of the family currently intends to return to Albania permanently, especially not 
the children. Therefore this dwelling is not built for the purpose of settling down, or 
at least not in the near future. 

In the 1990s, many Albanians migrated to Greece, as well as to other countries 
in smaller numbers. In 2005, the number of Albanian migrants in Greece and Italy 
was estimated at a total 800,000 (Barjaba and King 2005: 13-15). Amongst their 
first priorities, after accumulating some cash from their work abroad, was to build or 
refurbish their homes in Albania. For instance, in a biographical survey of Albanian 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 61 

Figure 4.5 The swimming pool and the vegetable garden. In the background is the village on the 

migrants in Greece (Nitsiakos 2003), the great majority of interviewees refer to their 
goal of building a house in Albania (e.g. 2003: 131, 169, 195, 219, 255-6, 277). 
Other qualitative surveys on Albanian migrants such as de Soto et al. (2002) and 
King and Vullnetari (2003: 49) emphasize this relationship between the house and 

The association between new houses and migration is epitomized by these newly 
built dwellings, which remain uninhabited for most of the calendar year, like the 
house of Fatos and Adelina. In this sense, there are two categories of migratory 
dwellings: those which are not lived in most of the time and those in which only 
one or a few members of the original household group reside. The southern pre- 
fecture of Gjirokaster is typical of most Albanian prefectures today. In quantitative 
terms, the census of 2001 (INSTAT 2004: 12) reported a total of 34,268 dwellings in 
Gjirokaster, but 7,528 of them are referred to as 'uninhabited'. 23 

Why should Albanian migrants build houses in Albania when they do not live, 
or even expect to live, there? It is, I argue, because these houses combine mul- 
tiple, diverse and contradictory elements — which are present in their migratory 
everydayness — in one single tangible material entity that makes sense to them and 
makes all this dynamic, multi-sited and multi-cultural everydayness a logical system 
of reference for the individuals involved. Fatos's house is an example of these or- 
dering capabilities of multiple and even conflicting elements. Fatos builds a house 

62 • Anthropology and the Individual 

physically located in Albania, but he calls it 'Greek'. When we approach his house 
as a material process, we see that he builds it with the very same materials he uses 
for the houses he constructs in Greece; he even carries these materials from Greece, 
journeys which often amount to dramatic expeditions that scorn the distances in- 
volved. But he wraps this house up in an 'Albanian' stone surface, a material which 
is also used to build the fence that distinguishes his plot very visibly from its Alba- 
nian surroundings. He builds his 'Greek house' using the same techniques that he 
applies to his professional building projects in Greece, but in both cases the actual 
builders are Albanians. Greek decorations adorn his house in Albania, but occasion- 
ally the same decoration is joined with Albanian elements creating a hybrid layout. 
He locates his house on the top of a hill, isolated from the rest of the settlement, but 
in doing so he is using this 'Greek house' to reclaim his family plot in Albania. He 
has his house disconnected from all utility networks, but this disconnection is exactly 
what relocates it occasionally in its Albanian environment. 

What can appear as a paradox or irony to someone else actually reflects the every- 
day lives of Fatos and Adelina, pivoted somewhere between Greece and Albania. 
This mobility and flexibility of the house and its material culture reveals the way 
individuals take their sense of order from diverse sources and create for themselves 
a hybridized pattern of life, which makes sense for them given the objective disloca- 
tions to which they are increasingly subject. They may not live in this house, but they 
are building an aesthetic, a cosmological order by which they can live. This house 
may be a source of semantic and material contradictions, but at the same time is an 
element of comfort, it is the main point of reference for the everydayness of Fatos 
and Adelina. It is where they like to spend their savings, time (in Greece) and energy. 
However, while they reside in Greece they have this house as a point of reference 
for their practices, but obviously they are not physically located in Albania, and yet 
the construction process as such makes perfect sense to them, perhaps because the 
house as such is a 'Greek house'. This house incorporates more or less everything 
going on in their lives in Greece and wraps it into an Albanian cover which internally 
reproduces a Greek-based 'technotrope'butone performed by Albanians, combining 
elements of a single-sited past and a multi-sited present. 


This chapter is based on my PhD research (Dalakoglou 2009); my fieldwork in Al- 
bania took place between August 2005 and September 2006 and I would like to 
thank my informants for their help, although for reasons of anonymity I cannot name 
them. For this chapter, thanks are due to Victor Buchli, Daniel Miller, Caroline Hum- 
phrey, Dimitra Gefou-Madianou, Eliana Lili, Antonis Vradis, Rigels Halili, Fereniki 
Vatavali, Bodil Birkebaek Olesen, Ivana Bajic, Catherine Baker, Liz Abraham, Vicky 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 63 

Beresford and Chris Simotas for their help and their comments on earlier versions 
of this text; any errors in this chapter are my responsibility. My doctorate received 
financial support from the Hellenic State's Scholarships Foundation (programme for 
post-graduate studies in social anthropology). I would also like to thank the Marie 
Curie European Doctorate Programme for the Social History of Europe and the Med- 
iterranean for additional financial assistance. 

1. Albanians living in Greece represent a distinctive case of transnationalism (see 
Mai and Schwandner-Sievers 2003; King, Mai and Schwandner-Sievers 2005). 
The term 'transnationalism' has usually referred to other diaspora communities 
and their links with the country of their origin, for example the Hindu diaspora 
living in South America or the United Kingdom, West Indians living in the 
United Kingdom and the United States or African diasporas and Mediterranean 
migrants living in Western Europe. For an overview of anthropological works 
on transnationalism, see Schiller et al. (1992); Kearney (1995); Marcus (1995); 
Mahler (1998); Vertovec (1999); Bryceson and Vuorela (2002); Eriksen (2003). 
The main distinction between all these aforementioned transnationalisms and the 
case of Albanians in Greece is the geographic proximity between the migratory 
destination and the place of origin, combined with what one could call 'cultural 
proximity' — that is the fact that the territories which are today known as Albania 
and northern Greece were both part of the Ottoman Empire until 1913 and that, 
in fact, a common Albanian-Greek border only strictly materialized after 1944. 

2. All names in this chapter have been changed. 

3. 'Shtepi Greke'. One should bear in mind that the Albanian language does not 
distinguish between 'home' and 'house'; the word 'shtepi' is used for both terms. 
There is also the more formal term 'banese' which means dwelling. Since the 
interviews were carried out in both Albanian and Greek, one should also note 
that the situation is similar with the Greek language, where the term 'spiti' also 
stands for both home and house (my transliteration of the Greek alphabet follows 
Green 2005). 

4. One of the most typical examples is the habitus theory of Pierre Bourdieu, where 
the Kabyle habitus, for instance, is located statically in Algeria and the distinc- 
tive habiti of French society are, of course, located in France. The habiti of both 
Kabyle and French society were presented in association with static isomor- 
phic places-cultures. The increase in mobility has made this model less realistic 
today, yet one cannot be sure that it was realistic even when Bourdieu studied the 
Kabyle. In Bourdieu's photograph album from his Algerian fieldwork (2004), 
one can see that part of his research actually took place in settlements of prefab- 
ricated houses, along the national road. One wonders whether the roads visible 
in the background of the photos may have played a rather greater role in Kabyle 
aesthetics than can be gleaned from Bourdieu's analysis. This question could 
be supported also by the celebrated question of Carsten and Hugh-Jones (1995: 

64 • Anthropology and the Individual 

40) who challenged the notion of inside/outside suggesting the introduction of 
movement as an extra dimension of Bourdieu's scheme. 

5. This division of humanity based on particular territories owes much to the Ger- 
man Romantic philosophy of the nineteenth century, which inspired the founda- 
tion of nation-states and the ill-founded separation in space of ethnic groups. In 
this sense, it is no coincidence that the German-trained Franz Boas became a 
pioneer in establishing anthropological subjects and their cultures according to 
the space they occupied. In 1910, for example Boas created his first systematic 
study of what he called 'culture areas' by mapping the North American Indians, 
dividing them into seven culture areas and directly linking clear-cut bounded 
spaces with respective cultures (Stocking 1974: 257-67). It was Boas who criti- 
cized the layout of the ethnographical collection of the American National 
Museum (1887a,b). He suggested that what was then the innovative layout of 
ethnographic collections into a 'room per culture' should replace the prevailing 
layout at the time, 'room per artefact' (evolutionarily classified from the most 
primitive to the most advanced). 

6. In fact, the problem with the prevailing perception of space at that time was that 
it was understood as mathematical, objective and fixed. The critique by Lefeb- 
vre and Tilley argued that space was not objective or solely physically defined; 
rather, space was subjective and always depended on the socio-cultural frame- 
work in which it was embedded. 

7. The International Organization for Migration (Chindea et al. 2007: 15; de Zwa- 
ger et al. 2005: 16) has estimated that the highest percentage (49%) of male Al- 
banian migrants in Greece are active in building and construction. Lamprianidis 
and Hatziprokopiou (2005: 104) found that the highest percentage (36%) of male 
Albanian migrants who returned permanently to Albania had been working in 
building and construction whilst living in Greece. One should also add to these 
figures people who are active in the construction sector but are included in the 
self-employed or professional categories. Fatos, the main informant of this paper 
(who is technically self-employed, yet in the construction sector), is a typical ex- 
ample. An earlier survey of Albanian migrants of Thessaloniki by Lamprianidis 
and Lymperaki (2001) found that construction and building employed the high- 
est percentage of the male Albanian migrants of that city. 

8. Stone was the most typical material used for building houses in rural areas be- 
fore World War II. Cement and bricks emerged as popular materials during the 
socialist period while those material industries in Albania flourished. In post- 
socialism, buildings are constructed almost exclusively with cement and bricks, 
but today these materials are mostly imported because the productivity of the 
contemporary Albanian industry is limited. 

9. This was — and frequently still is — the usual situation of many Albanian migrants 
in Greece. The Greek state's migration laws gave migrants without documents 
very limited chances of obtaining permission to stay: therefore, during the 1990s 

Building and Ordering Transnationalism • 65 

most Albanian migrants became a very inexpensive labour force for Greece, es- 
pecially in rural areas. In fact, the Greek state not only prevented migrants legal- 
izing their residence in the country, but state authorities (e.g. the Greek Police) 
had a leading role in construction of negative representations about Albanian 
migrants. A dimension of these processes was reported ethnographically by Law- 
rence (2007) in the case of Argolida area of south mainland Greece. 

10. The interview was conducted in both Greek and Albanian, yet at that point she 
used the Greek terms ' kathimerino kathistiko' and 'kalo kathistiko'. 

11. 'Estetika Greke'. 

12 . ' Gje Shqiptare' . 

13. 'Tavoline tradicionale Shqiptare'. During my fieldwork, I researched what hap- 
pened to the sofra during the projects of socialist modernization. It seems that, 
in most of the villages, the old sofra was moved out of the sitting room into 
rooms not frequented for public activity, such as the kitchen, the storage room or 
even the yard. In other instances, I learnt from some of my informants that their 
living-room modernization was achieved partly by transforming the low sofra 
into a tall-legged table. The sofra continues to be used in Fatos's parents' home, 
and was the only table in their home until the mid-1980s, when they got a tall- 
legged table. 

14. Almost everything needed to build a house — from cement, bricks, iron rods, tiles, 
paint and tools to doors and windows and sanitary ware — came from Greece. 

15. In Greek, 'mastoras' refers to the master builder. The mastoras organizes and 
accomplishes the most advanced parts of the building process and he supervises 
and teaches newcomers to the profession, who initially enter the hierarchy as his 
'assistants' (yoithos/oi). 'Mastores' are usually divided according to their exper- 
tise, e.g. 'betatzis' (an expert in cement concretes) or 'petras' (an expert in laying 

16. The term 'technotropia' is generally used in Greece by wall painters. Some- 
times it refers to the same technique Fatos displayed, a heterogeneously coloured 
surface which results from spreading colour on the wall using gloved hands or 
a rough brush. However, the term also refers generally to other techniques of 
colouring walls which do not produce the homogenous smooth surface achieved 
with the typical paintbrush and roll technique. 

17. This is not rare in rural Albania, since people occasionally went from having no 
telephone at all to using cell phones during the 1990s. However, it has signifi- 
cance here within this framework of general physical disconnection. 

18. 'mbifshat'. 

19. The power of customary law and land notions in pre-WWII Albania is well re- 
ported by the two major pre-war ethnographers of the Albanian North, Margaret 
Hasluck (1954) and Mary Durham (1979, 1985). 

20. Enver Hoxha was the leading figure of the Albanian Communist Party (which 
later was renamed Party of Labour of Albania); occasionally Albanians when 

66 • Anthropology and the Individual 

they refer to the socialist period, they use terms such as the age of Communism 
or the age of Enver. 

21. For more details on the anthropological examination of retsina, see Gefou-Ma- 
dianou (1992). 

22. 'Po ndertohet nje copez Europe ne Shqiperi; Mund tiajap me qera nje nga katet 
nje Organizate Nderkombetare' . 

23. In fact, it can be claimed that the number of uninhabited dwellings in 2001 
was much higher. This irregularity can be explained by most of the build- 
ings being under slow construction in Albania. Most of the time, the 'mak- 
ing' of houses is perpetual. Even when the houses are being built relatively 
quickly, they still have semi-completed sections or additional rooms or floors 
can be attached. In such circumstances, some of these 'houses' have a few 
rooms built, while the rest of the building is under construction for up to a 
decade or longer. Often, these two or three so-called closed rooms (meaning 
that they have been completed, with doors and windows) are on the ground 
floor of a two- or three-storey building. Thus, although these 'closed rooms' 
can be a completed small house within a potentially bigger house, they are 
not being reported as dwellings in the census. Furthermore, the census is a 
quantitative research tool which can miss qualitative aspects: for example the 
census reports a house as 'inhabited' when only one member of the original 
household group lives there while the rest are abroad. Therefore, in a town of 
approximately 34,000 houses, at least 7,500 of them are uninhabited but are 
being continuously refurbished. Here one should add that many commercially 
built apartments remain empty because there is not an analogous demand for 
them. This limited demand for flats and apartments built by construction firms 
is due, first, to Albanians' extended preference for building their own house 
themselves (for reasons which will be analyzed below) and, second, because 
some firms, encouraged by the 'building fever' for accommodation, invested 
in blocks of flats, but did so in vain because they failed to discern the private 
nature of this construction boom and its character of personal projects. More- 
over, some accommodation is empty because certain buildings have been used 
for money laundering so that nobody cares how these properties are used as 
long as they are built. 


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The Christian and the Taxi Driver: Poverty 
and Aspiration in Rural Jamaica 

Daniel Miller 

Pressed: The Christian and His Mobile Phone 

There are creased trousers and there are Pentecostal creased trousers. There is the 
way individuals living in poverty somehow appear every day with their white shirts 
and their neat clothes, and then there is Sunday best. At a Jamaican Sunday Pente- 
costal service the clothing looks too perfect to be of this world. The creases are so 
sharp, the starch so crisp, the effect is radiant; speaking for the aspiration to heaven 
rather than of earth. The signs of the saved and of the saints that bring a person closer 
to the state of angels. Indeed the seven- and eight-year-old children in their stunning 
frocks and suits and their immaculately braided hair with shining baubles seem about 
as angelic as human beings ever get to be in this life. 

Yet one cannot separate out the creases of Pentecostalism and poverty in Dami- 
an's trousers or in any other part of his life. This neat and clean clothing exemplifies 
how other-worldly aspirations are constantly manifest in his world. Damian is five- 
foot-six or seven, with dark brown complexion, a winning smile. In his case the big 
ears help him look appealing rather than odd. His short hair is, of course, as neat as 
his clothes. Yet Damian's smile, which is pretty much a constant, has a Job-like qual- 
ity, because of the way it accompanies every new misfortune. It indicates the way he 
turns his problems into divine tests, each thereby providing a further step towards 
bliss. So, too, his unfailing good manners, his courtesy, that seems so natural to him, 
and so contrived in others. 

Whatever happens, he knows exactly what he is going to become and how he 
will reach that goal. Indeed he feels he is about to reach this goal anytime soon. He 
will be a Pentecostal Pastor just as his father is now — which is why to describe him 
as a seventeen-year-old is so misleading. Where I live, seventeen-year-old boys are 
as shapeless as my trousers. Mostly, infuriatingly relaxed, playing computer games, 
playing at school, playing at being this or that personality. Uncertain of who they are, 


70 • Anthropology and the Individual 

or who they want to be and fluctuating from caring too much to not caring much at 
all. Damian was never young in that way. 

Damian's father is a pastor to a few small churches built by farmers that could 
never provide 'a living' — this is a million miles from Trollope and Jane Austen. His 
mother is a market vendor. As a child Damian lived in about six different tenement 
buildings. His parents never wanted so many children, they just didn't have family 
planning. They left him and his brothers and sisters with a helper, who used to beat 
him regularly. Although he passed all his exams, he still had to learn to work the 
markets to pay for his school fees, together with a scheme he developed for re-selling 
sweets to other school children. He lived with an aunt and commuted thirty miles to 
school, but always helped her with her church duties. He insisted on being baptized 
(saved) before his elder siblings, since he knew he was ready. Today, quite apart 
from the regular Sunday prayers, Damian goes to a prayer meeting on Monday night, 
a bible meeting on Wednesday night and on Friday night he organizes the youth 
programme. Other matters were secondary. He had had a girl friend for six months 
but they had separated, partly from differences in their religious feelings and partly 
because she was unfaithful to him. 

Damian genuinely believed in his own aesthetic aura, that he was a beacon of 
light, literally radiant. He was nominated President for the inter-school Christian 
fellowship group, an executive member of this youth society and a leader for that 
one; vice-president for peer counselling, and eventually, inevitably, head boy of the 
school. He had started a Christian club, a fellowship for students that mirrored the 
Pentecostal churches of the elders. School children would come together for prayer 
which started to include speaking in tongues, healing and revelation. The club was a 
success; attracting twenty, sometimes even forty, school children. 

But then, according to Damian, one young man received a revelation from God 
that they should all pray for the school, because some serious thing was going to 
happen in the school. He said they should pray for the Principal who was in danger, 
which put some of the children into a panic. There follows a long story, but the up- 
shot was that as soon as the exams were over Damian left school, with the mutual 
feeling between himself and the Principal that his real vocation lay elsewhere. His 
economic affaires were even more complex. As with many people in poverty he 
juggled multiple debts and multiple potential sources of income, including a rotat- 
ing credit scheme, with his market work making up the shortfalls. After completing 
school he began helping to serve two churches and consider schemes that would 
allow him to develop his own flock. Even now there was no real separation of church 
and living. The money that he earned was often intended for the constant needs of the 
church, while organizing a youth event was as much an entrepreneurial as a spiritual 

Damian's first phone, a Panasonic, was bought in spring 2003 for J$3,000 (£30). 
When at school he was trying to keep monthly phone bills to J$300. Later on, with 
all his church responsibilities, this was creeping up sometimes to more like J$500 a 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 71 

week. As with most Jamaicans, even this cheap low-level cell phone is much more 
than just a communications device. This is his watch and his calculator. It's where 
he keeps his vital information, especially his diary. On his phone he can play games 
when he is bored, using a mouse like a navigator key, and he plays most days. It can 
store some 200 numbers. When we first met in 2003 he had only 65, but by the sum- 
mer of 2004 this had grown to 136. 

About seventy of these names are young men and women in approximately equal 
numbers. Many are fellow school children, especially those who formed his Christian 
club. Many others, especially young women, are people he met at periodic church 
camps. Fourteen of his contacts are people who could potentially provide music for 
his church activities. He also has eight relatives listed, but almost no-one that con- 
nects to him through his market activities, other than relatives. A major part of his 
phone address book then consists of those he works with in the church. Some are just 
called church sisters or brothers, but there are also pastors, youth camp leaders, and 
counsellors. Almost always when it comes to a younger person, the basic description 
he provides of them is in terms of the state of their religious relationship. So he will 
say 'Oh that's Peter; I witnessed to him in school' or 'That's Nadine, she is saved', 
'That is Deneal; he is a backsliding man', or simply 'Kenaisha, she is a Christian.' 
Commonly what he remarks upon is the interaction between his Christian relation- 
ship and the potential for other kinds of relationship. So there is 'Jodie. I like her 
spirit in the sense of a young lady who loves God, so I took her number to call and 
encourage her' or Kelly: 'She had a big, big crush on me. Yes I phone her very often 
because I crave her vulnerability to minister Jesus Christ to her; being that she is so 
vulnerable to me I just use that to minister to her.' There is Dwain: 'He is very spiri- 
tual, someone I consider to have an anointing of the mind. He plays the drums.' He 
uses the categories feature in the phone to organize the names. There are 'friends', 
'family', 'witness' — those he will call or text about Jesus Christ — and the largest 
group which is called 'church people' that he works with in the ministry. 

Damian was quite clear on the benefits of the cell phone: 

If I am feeling down, or when I feel depressed I can call a person, and hopefully they 
can cheer me up or change my mood. Often people call me when they are down and I 
encourage them. Or I might just randomly send a text, a scripture of encouragement, to 
them or to my church helpers. I compose a piece of scripture. And then there is a system 
called user message on the phone, so you can send it to ten church brothers and church 
sisters at the same time. Especially on special occasions such as Christmas and New 
Year's Day. You could send 'May the joys of the Season fill your life with love and with 
righteousness.' My aunt is in the choir and sometimes they don't meet for practice, she 
would call her church sister and say 'what song you have in mind that we could sing for 
this service.' 

I also do counselling by phone. The other night this girl called me, and she said she 
just did something bad. She had sex with her boyfriend, and her grandmother came and 
caught her in the act. And she said she just wanted to kill herself or run away. And I 

72 • Anthropology and the Individual 

encouraged her and prayed for her and she went to bed. Then I saw her in the morning 
and she said she felt much better. Another time, another young lady called me and told 
me they are spreading rumours about her and her close friend, that she is a lesbian. 1 And 
she went away from her community for a period of time because of the rumours. And I 
encouraged her and told her not to let what people say do this to you. I always try to influ- 
ence the environment in a positive way. And she felt much better and went back home. I 
can spend a whole card on this, and someone might call me seven times in one hour till 
their credit finish. So I can reach people more easily. It's a friend indeed since it's always 
there when I am in need. 

The word of God says 'Be not confounded to this world, but be transformed by the 
renewing of your mind.' I think personally that many souls are going to be saved, and the 
phone is a medium in which we can help persons who don't know Jesus Christ, to help 
them find Jesus Christ by this partnership of prayer and encouragement and counselling. 
I think the phone is a blessing from God since this is the medium through which I can 
help many persons. 

On the other hand Damian sees a darker side to this technology: 

People's phone does go off during a service which is very disturbing. Most churches 
encourage members to put their phone on vibrate or turn it off. Once my pastor stood up 
and said that God is not pleased when we allow the phones to disturb the service, and that 
once you are serving God he won't allow anything bad to happen such that a person has 
to call you urgently. The phone can also be a route to temptation. It is capable of much 
evil. It can lead people to have phone relationships. They don't know the person, but 
they can be girl or boy friend because of the phone. They call it voice lovers, or phone 
lovers. They will do phone sex. One of my friends tried that. There is not much affection 
in it though. If the phone connects to the Internet they can download pornography. Then 
they would want to get a better one, a newer model that would even allow him to watch 
a sex movie live. 

I think the phone is part of the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast. Because when I 
first had my phone, the phone company representative called me and started giving me 
information. And they can tell how much you use, when you made your last call and your 
text. Then they can even put a chip in it and know your whereabouts. In the Christian 
religion, we believe that in the last days there will be devices of the devil to stop God's 
people from going to heaven. They will have the mark on their forehead or on their 
right hand, and you won't be able to buy or sell without the mark. So I would conclude 
that this chip in the phone will encourage advancement in the way of the Mark of the 
Beast and that's how they will get to know different information about different people. 
I heard there is a chip called a Digi-angel that can pick up 2,000 informations on one 
person in about one second. Fortunately at this special time, approaching the last days, 
the phone can also be summoned against the works of the devil. According to Mathew 
24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, in last days the enemy will be going about his work with ever 
more concentration and energy since he knows he has little time left. This is why God 
has now granted us the technology to move his work within the spiritual system. So we 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 73 

can spread the gospel more effectively, more quickly with the instruments that have been 

Overall, as the year progressed, Damian became clear that the phone is not in 
itself either an instrument of good or evil. It depends mainly upon the state and mo- 
tivation of the user. The phone even starts to come into his preaching. He says in a 
sermon 'Before you run to the phone run to the throne. When something happens to 
some people they will call their friends and say some bad thing happened at church. 
They call and create mischief. But they should first run to God and talk to him first 
before they talk to anyone else.' 

Damian does not worry that his phone will be stolen since he has 'covered it under 
the blood'. That is, he has prayed to God to protect his phone under the blood of Jesus 
against the deeds of Satan. That's why he does not feel the need to back up the num- 
bers in the phone. In any case, he notes he could easily get back most of these num- 
bers, because he is involved with most of these people directly, not just by phone. That 
is not the only way a phone can be Christianized. At first Damian was tolerant of secu- 
lar ringtones, but as time went on he increasingly saw these as an abomination, not 
surprisingly, given the racy titles and lyrics of some Jamaican dancehall tunes that are 
popular as local ringtones. Fortunately there are Christian alternatives. He has several 
on his phone, which also has the facility to record music directly and turn these into 
ringtones. These include 'No matter what they say I made up my mind I am a fool for 
Christ', and 'My God is an awesome God; he reigns for evermore', but also, entirely 
without irony, 'Oh God you are the only one, that's why I am holding on so long.' 

Damian never seems to stress the phone's application to his business activities. 
Although, observing and listening to him, this does actually seem to be quite an im- 
portant part of his use of the phone. Sometimes he will ask his mother or a friend 
to make purchases when church business prevents him from coming to Kingston. 
Sometimes he returns such favours, again being alerted to the indisposition of others 
by the phone. But if Damian plays down the importance of the phone in this regard it 
is because he plays down such secular activities in general. For him, two uses in par- 
ticular seem to stand out. One is the development of his actual counselling by phone 
and the fact that he doesn't have to take a taxi and travel to be with those who need 
his prayers and counselling. Damian regards himself as rather like a doctor. A patient 
suffering from sin needs certain, what he most often calls 'encouragements,' to be 
dispensed. If this can be done via the phone, so much the better. The other blessing 
is the use of the phone to organize meetings, especially his youth meetings. The 
phone, and its internal system of categories, helps him in these organizational tasks. 
He goes through his contacts, summoning those most relevant to the various tasks: 
of providing music, or merely turning up as the congregants to his meetings. He is 
aiming for an attendance of 120 at his next youth day. So his work is reduced down 
to the fine art of scrolling through this very organized phone address book. In this 
way the phone has become an ally in his constant struggle; a variant of that found in 

74 • Anthropology and the Individual 

so many parts of the world, to maintain respectability, dignity and finally salvation, 
in conditions of constant struggle and poverty. 

Driven: The Taxi Driver and His Van 

You are hurtling down a mountainside. There is no lighting; the road is full of pot- 
holes; it is narrow, twisting, precipitous; and the van you are in is not small. The 
driver sitting beside you smells strongly of beer, hardly surprising, since you recently 
watched him consume his fifth in the last two hours. It's not as if you even enjoy 
those video games which throw at you a twisting road with sudden obstacles and 
challenge you to keep within its limits. At least with those, when disaster strikes, you 
only have to put your 'avatar' on the screen back to its proper position. Yet actually 
you are also aware of your own awe at your companion. Because while this is cer- 
tainly not sensible, you have been driving long enough to realize, perhaps for the first 
time, just how skilled an activity this can be; that this is quite possibly the best driver 
you have ever known. There is no hint of hesitation, doubt or concern. There is sim- 
ply a kind of magical understanding of the relationship between driver and machine. 
Diamond loves his vehicle, with a sometimes painful intensity. It may be reassuring 
to know that even if he is not overly concerned with your hide, he is desperate not to 
scratch its body. Having just completed a three-hour interview, during the course of 
this journey, you are aware that this van hasn't suffered a single scratch in the two 
years since he purchased it. 

As for the advanced state of inebriation, this too is hardly novel. It's what this 
van drives on. Diamond needs alcohol just as much as the vehicle needs petrol. He 
simply doesn't do driving sober. This is not just the odd drink; you can't recall an 
evening when he wasn't pretty close to what for you would have been blind drunk 
before he goes off driving. This trip has had only one stop so far to refuel that van, 
but it has had plenty to refuel the man. In the end, I am no Hemmingway. This is still 
an art I would rather admire from a distance than stake my life on. I am very relieved 
when we get home. 

The car, and by extension the taxi (with its money-making capacity), has become 
one of the most common foci of aspiration among young boys in rural Jamaica. A 
symbol of mobility, the taxi is a more affordable and attainable dream than migra- 
tion or the building of a house, goals that have traditionally occupied high esteem 
in Jamaica. Diamond's own rise came slowly, over a decade of tedious work and 
dedication. Unlike today's well-groomed vehicle, Diamond's first vehicle, in which 
he started out as a conductor collecting fares, was a chipped blue van with a maroon 
hood and ripped seats which he shared with his cousin who drove the vehicle. As a 
'ducta', he learned how to work out how many school kids could be crammed into 
the rows to compensate for their discounted fares (only $J10 compared to $J30 for 
full fare). He learned who had it hard and discerned who to let get by with a free ride. 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 75 

And he also learned that all-important axiom: it is not the cost, but how much each 
person can afford to give, or have taken. 

Just as his skills on the road developed so did his handling of girls and women. No 
longer did he content himself with lurking in the right places or communicating his 
attraction through awkward stares, followed by such unmemorable statements such 
as 'mi like yu'. In its place, he learned to hold onto a hand a little longer as a person 
paid her fare or entered and exited the bus. He learned to linger in the corners and 
out of sight and to place the good-looking girls in the front seat next to him where 
he could catch a glimpse of their thighs or breasts as the vehicles jerked around the 
corners. He gained the confidence and the luck to find his own vehicle by negotiating 
a deal to purchase his own taxi, a vehicle which outside of Jamaica would have con- 
stituted a four- to five-person vehicle, but could easily carry six adults in Jamaica. 

Working the route from Orange Valley to Everton five to six times per week, he 
developed a regular clientele who asked him to carry them to and from the airport(s) 
as well as for special days such as outings to the beach. He also started to develop 
relationships with a number of girls and women who he 'checked' when he had the 
opportunity to pass by. Some worked in bars or were old friends or contacts from his 
youth. During this time, Diamond drove his car hard and learned the fastest routes 
across the island, the best places to stop, where the police hid, and who could be 
bribed. But he still was not content and could see that his taxi was not going to get 
him big money. No, the passenger van which could hold up to fourteen people was 
certainly much more lucrative and he began saving his partner's 2 money and working 
on his mother to help him finance a van so that he could collect his mother and all 
of her goods from the airport and wharves, or carry her to church rallies and other 
events in distant parishes. Within two years of hard work and savings, he managed to 
obtain the used white van with grey vinyl interior that he owns today. 

As soon as Diamond collected the van, he started to feel and to believe that he 
had arrived. No more torn seats, dirty floors and mats, dents or missing items; this 
van was meticulously maintained. He kept a chamois cloth in his vehicle to clean 
the windows and to wipe off the steering wheel which had its own special 'bumpy' 
covering. He became extra careful in not spilling his beer or the corn-on-the-cob 
he occasionally stopped to eat when on the road with passengers. When travelling 
the routes, he was keen to make sure that the school kids were not marking up his 
vehicle with pen or that those women who chose to eat a patty or have a lunch didn't 
leave crumbs. He hired both a 'ducta' to recruit passengers as well as one of the men 
from his district to clean the car almost daily. 

With skinny legs and a concave chest, Diamond never really had the brawn to 
command a lot of women. But his mother equipped him with Nike shirts, a Kangol 
hat, trainers and other elements that suggest money and 'connections'. Diamond de- 
cided to take on a common-law wife who he kept fitted in new clothes, wigs and ped- 
icures. He also purchased a series of thick gold braided necklaces (probably admired 
less for quality and more for thickness and quantity) as well as three gold rings which 

76 • Anthropology and the Individual 

bore his initials. He also put gold caps on his teeth, one of which was fitted with a 
diamond (or cubic zirconia). This 'bling' aspect of Diamond's new life as a 'taxi 
driver' also made him feel more adventurous. He took on more girlfriends, some in 
those distant parishes that he travelled to on chartered journeys to the airport. 

Taxi drivers are of critical importance to the wider life of this rural area. They 
represent the core to a rural 'public sphere'. There are certainly people who would 
put themselves forward as the more public face of Orange Valley, and who would 
feel they have the experience and responsibility to consider its affairs and take them 
forward. There is a town committee consisting of the leading figures: headmasters, 
doctors, shopkeepers and so forth. But for the most part, the population who live 
in the villages regard such people as distant. These are people they may need and 
may depend on, but they experience them as a powerful and sometimes oppressive 

By contrast, it is the taxi driver who has become the critical figure that unites and 
brings together the community, since it is the taxi driver who carried news as well 
as individuals from place to place. It's not just that they deliver the school children 
and the people coming to market. They help supply the shops with their goods; they 
deliver parcels and produce. But above all in a society that pivots around one phrase 
that defines Jamaica: 'whagwaan', they are the people in a position to know what's- 
going-on, whether it is the latest dancehall event or the real reason behind last night's 
murder in Arsenal. To become successful in the way a taxi driver succeeds is not to 
create any distance from others. Taxi drivers do not grow up and above others in the 
way of the town's elite. They remain about the most accessible people in the town. 
You see them every day except Sundays. They are central to the wider 'communica- 
tive ecology' of the place (Slater and Miller 2007; Slater and Tacchi 2004). They are 
the people who will take a parcel for you to a friend further down their route, without 
charging you for it. They are the ones who will turn up in an emergency to take your 
sick child to the clinic. They are the ones who can save old limbs from treacherous 
muddy paths back up to the village. It is the taxi drivers who know that the old man, 
who used to be a tailor, dreamt last night of cats. And so by seven o'clock in the 
morning a significant proportion of the town can bet on the 'right' numbers in today's 
'cashpot' lottery. 

Furthermore the taxi driver represents the kind of success that most ordinary 
people can and do aspire to. They have a regular income that, where possible, is in- 
vested in their own transport. They are the entrepreneurs that can generate a certain 
amount of security and constancy in income. But, unlike other forms of investment, 
this is the one that seems to have little of the negative — the entrapments, that people, 
especially young people, also associate with such success. They haven't passed over 
to another side, gone to live down Babylon. 

Unlike other symbols of mobility (homes, church, etc.), the taxi doesn't seem 
to tie one down in the way a shop might, or even another steady job. If anything it 
seems to actually accentuate the freedoms of an individual who retains his autonomy, 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 77 

his choice to work, his time of work. While other jobs seem like a boulder that drags 
a person down to a fixed place, this is more like a light and useful carapace that he 
can carry with him, and that carries him wherever he wants to go. To be a taxi driver 
is the resolution of work and freedom (Miller 1994); a freedom that finds its defini- 
tion in the relationships, the women, it brings in its wake. 

In Jamaica women have children to show that they can, to show they are mature, 
to demonstrate that they are indeed properly women, and because in various ways 
they must (Sobo 1993). Diamond is happy to represent himself as the victim of this 
cycle. 'Like if you go court, them charge you to how you work. If you have a woman 
and she have pickney for you; if dem know say you inna a good work dem demands 
money from you. Mostly the younger one dem prefer talk to a married man. Them 
get more benefits, like them get money, and things like that. And seem when them 
deh wid a married man and so, them nah do nutten for the man, cause them no have 
to go home to wash, cook, or something like that.' Actually it is clear that Diamond is 
as much concerned to demonstrate his own masculinity through having women bear 
children for him. This is a vicious cycle at the heart of Jamaican sexual life. 

If a fifteen-year-old has a child in order to try and 'fix' a man, and fails in this 
venture, then however bad the situation for the fifteen-year-old, the child is a victim 
from birth. A remarkable number of babies are indeed looked after, cared for, loved 
by other women, who actually have no real obligation to care. But there are other 
children who are not really cared for, have no secure sense of being mothered or 
looked after; who become old enough to go to primary school, but have no money 
for lunch or school books. At a local primary school, perhaps a third of the pupils 
do not attend school with any regularity for precisely this reason. And these are the 
girls who grow up knowing that the only real hope, the best bet, is to have sex and, 
better still, have a baby for a taxi driver, who has a secure income, and just might be 
prepared to provide for the baby and the baby's mother (for the background to this 
see Chevannes 2001; Mohammed 2002; Reddock 2004). 

These two individuals, Damian and Diamond, define in turn the aesthetic of the 
town itself. Orange Valley is something of a facade. Because the bustle represented 
by sixty shops, augmented by around twenty small temporary stalls, set up anew each 
day, and selling snacks or clothes, means that, at first, one hardly notices the lack of 
residences. There are probably no more than sixty or seventy houses, less than the 
shops. It simply services the local rural area. The main institution that constitutes 
the town is a primary school and especially the secondary school with more than 
2,000 pupils. When the school day ends, these children don't just descend into town, 
they swarm. They erupt with the force of their release from a place they regard largely 
as a space of constraint, if not oppression. Orange Valley turns instantly from a quite 
dusty coloured backwater to a carpet of white and maroon, the school uniform. 

The swarm does not last long. Just as Orange Valley looks completely overrun 
and doomed, the other major feature of the town comes to life as taxis whirl and 
swoop like birds of prey to pick off the swarming children; a feeding frenzy that 

78 • Anthropology and the Individual 

whisks them off in all directions, returns and feeds some more, until within an hour 
only the stragglers remain. For this hour, the two, the dominant imperatives of this 
town, meet and give reason to the place: the educational institutions that garner chil- 
dren from all over the district and the taxi system that brings and returns them, and 
spends the rest of the day linking up the inhabitants of this straggling region, who 
emerge to go about their daily business and then filter back to their homesteads. So 
the core relationship of Orange Valley has become that of the taxi driver and the 
school child. At first glance, it seems so innocent. And there are taxi drivers who go 
out of their way to care for school children, who ferry them to distant sites, watch 
over them, know their parents and often share some kinship with them. But as is 
clear both from Diamond's conversation and his actions, there is another side to this 
relationship, based more on mutual exploitation and sexual predation. 


Is this a chapter about two individuals, or is it a means to convey something called 
Jamaican society or culture? What is implicit, but needs to be made explicit, is the 
process of selection, the decision to use these two people to write this chapter. My 
starting point is that it has entirely different implications from the description of an- 
other two individuals, Charlotte and Malcolm, presented in the introductory chapter 
to this volume. Those individuals were specific to themselves, characteristic only of 
the diversity of society at an individual level. But the way I have employed Damian 
and Diamond imply the much older anthropological tradition of the person as micro- 
cosm, who stand for the macrocosm. They are society writ small. 

Damian stands for Pentecostalism, the dominant ideology of contemporary Jamai- 
can Christianity. A significant percentage of the Jamaican population, mainly older 
people who have settled down as child carers, or young people still under their in- 
fluence, largely give their lives to these ideals. Unfortunately for Damian, religion 
becomes much less important as people move into their late teens and twenties. They 
then tend more to share aspirations with Diamond. But the way Diamond was de- 
scribed in the context of the central relationship between taxi drivers and school chil- 
dren in Orange Valley showed that he too represents, not just an individual, but the 
structural core to the town itself, its contradictions and values. Both come from similar 
conditions of poverty and both have clear aspirations, conventional to their immediate 
peers. Both are unusually successful, for their age, in fulfilling those aspirations. 

The macrocosm — the cosmology that creates society — is not a single normative 
form, to be represented by a single person. As in much of the work of Bourdieu 
(1977 and 1984) these two represent a systematic and structural opposition which 
constitutes that larger structural whole. This should not be reduced to a single rep- 
resentation of Jamaican society. This is many worlds apart from the middle-class 
of Kingston, for example. But it can apply to the specific area of Orange Valley. 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 79 

These are not individuals chosen at random. They are selected because they do the 
job of exemplification particularly well. Damian is not just any Christian. He per- 
forms what he strives to be with unusual clarity and commitment. Diamond does the 
same for a completely opposed set of values. They stand as ideal types in an almost 
Weberian sense. Yet they do actually exist as two individuals encountered during 
fieldwork, described without requiring exaggeration. That really was my recollection 
of Diamond's driving. 

There is a wonderful monograph on Jamaican Pentecostalism by Austin-Broos 
(1997) that carefully explicates the logic within the cosmology of this faith. But this 
chapter argues that a similar potential exists for material worlds. As in the previous 
chapters of this volume by Craciun, Olesen and Dalakoglou the logics implicated 
in these persons derives in some measure from that which is external to them. The 
phone and the taxi are not incidental. They are central to the contemporary manner 
by which individuals construct themselves. It is impossible to even imagine Dia- 
mond, except as partly an emanation of the existence of taxis. The number of ways 
Damian finds to Christianize his phone, or for Diamond to subsume his life within 
the ideals of taxi-driving are astonishing. Similarly the way Diamond seems to stand 
for Orange Valley itself; the taxi driver's relationship with school children as the 
very raison d'etre to the place. They were brought up in this place with these material 
things and again, following Bourdieu (1977), it is possible to see them as socialized 
through the way they inculcate the order found in objects and places. The objects no 
more represent people than people merely represent objects. It is a process of objec- 
tification (Miller 1987). 

Both individuals use objects in a manner close to Cell's (1998) notion of an aes- 
thetic as the external expression that allows a person to extend his agency in order 
to secure the interest of others. Both use objects for this art of seduction, quite liter- 
ally in the case of Diamond's desire for multiple sexual relations, and figuratively 
in the case of Damian's desire to attract a flock from which he can form his church. 
The 'bling', the taxi, the numbers of youth at a church event are the evident signs of 
personal achievement for Diamond and Damian respectively. But the concept of aes- 
thetic as outlined in the introduction of this book is not that of Cell. It is a much more 
holistic device. It is the order and structure that makes sense of the wider values being 
expressed and the larger opposition that constitutes these values as society and struc- 
ture. The evidence presented in this chapter is in support of the contention that an 
aesthetic holism can be discerned analytically, both at the level of the individual, and 
at a level that transcends them as individuals and is found in Orange Valley itself. 

This is therefore not at all a chapter about individualism. It might have been. 
Jamaican individualism is a fascinating topic. Colleagues working with traditional 
fishing communities report that a fisherman expects to sell his fish to his wife who 
then markets them. Similarly people were giving up telephone landlines partly be- 
cause of their antipathy to a shared expenditure as opposed to their individualized 
payments for mobile phones (Horst and Miller 2006: 73-8). In Jamaica money is 

80 • Anthropology and the Individual 

used to express the internal relations of families in a way that most English people 
would see as far too individualistic. So there certainly is a form of individualism in 
Jamaica that derives from long-standing features of Jamaican society and has noth- 
ing to do with contemporary neo-liberalism. One could therefore engage in long 
debates as to whether Jamaicans or Londoners were more or less individualistic. But 
the degree of individualism is a different topic and argument. It is not the concern 
of this chapter. That individualism in no way detracts from the ability of individuals 
to act as a microcosm in relation to the wider Jamaican aesthetic in a manner that I 
have suggested would no longer be possible in a place such as London. As the intro- 
duction suggests, and as the chapters of this book demonstrate, we can examine the 
individual as one of the media being used to objectify social orders, irrespective of 
the degree of individualism. 

This becomes still clearer when we juxtapose this chapter with that of Murray. 
Madrid is a modern urban centre, far removed from rural Jamaica, and yet Mur- 
ray indicates how an individual objectifies Madrid in a manner that corresponds 
to the case from rural Jamaica, not that of London. By comparison with the rural 
poverty of Jamaica, most people in London have considerable resources, support 
from, but also autonomy from, the state. I suggest in the introduction that this allows 
them to construct a heterogeneous aesthetic, taken piecemeal from the sheer diver- 
sity and heterogeneity of their surrounding and influences. The people in Madrid 
have comparable resources to Londoners. Yet they retain a homogeneity that means 
an individual makes sense only in relation to an aesthetic that is objectified by the 
place itself — Madrid. So the diversity of London cannot be reduced to the wealth of 
London. The economic conditions may allow for the emergence of an aesthetic of 
household described in the introduction for London, but comparative anthropology 
shows they do not determine it. 

So neither situation, Madrid, London or Jamaica should be regarded as more au- 
thentic, or more modern, or more central to anthropology, per se. Rather, in combi- 
nation, they help us to appreciate another concept of aesthetic as an analytical tool. 
One that may be found in the portraits of individuals: the way they comb their hair, 
the way they talk to women, the things that give them confidence and the need to 
incorporate each and every object within a particular style. This aesthetic is the very 
shape and form of struggle and hope in Jamaica. Without the skills to fully embody 
these aesthetics they have very little chance of success. 

This aesthetic quality is even clearer when the two figures are juxtaposed. Because 
whatever they have in common, they are also systematically opposed. Damian's mis- 
sion in life is to persuade his generation not to take the path represented by Diamond, 
which he represents as a fundamental choice between heaven and hell. While each 
island is specific, there is a pattern to such dualistic oppositions that seems charac- 
teristic of the Caribbean more generally (starting from Wilson 1966). Such dual- 
isms have been criticized for the way they present gender (e.g. Besson 1993), but 
my evidence from Trinidad (Miller 1994) does not support these criticisms. In this 

The Christian and the Taxi Driver • 81 

chapter the opposition is portrayed through two internally consistent individuals. But 
it is entirely possible for this situation to change. One day Diamond may find God, 
but without losing his ambition to accumulate women. Or Damian may become so 
successful as a preacher that temptations will arise to which he may succumb. The 
chapter could still have rested on these two individuals but would have had to work 
through the analysis of their internal contradictions. 

The aim would remain the same. There is a cultural order here, as in the classics 
of anthropology from Malinowski through to Geertz and Bourdieu. It is an aesthetic 
that people see and express through the material and other orders around them, and 
gives them their style and aspirations. It is not freely chosen; its roots are often in 
poverty and historical oppression. It doesn't just make sense of life; it is their lives. 
By focusing upon the phone and taxi we can see how fully it saturates everyday ac- 
tions and aspirations. There is a wider holism, but we can also explore the internal 
logics, consistencies and contradictions that can be discerned, at the level of both 
individual and of society. In this volume we try to make explicit the implications 
of trying to convey this aesthetic both of the person and of the wider society within 
which they live; what it means and what is at stake when one makes theoretical and 
analytical points through portraits of individuals. 


Both of the individuals discussed in this chapter were introduced to me by Heather 
Horst, with whom I conducted fieldwork on the impact of the mobile phone in Ja- 
maica. I am entirely indebted to her contribution, without which I could not have 
participated in the fieldwork. All my observations and insights depended upon con- 
tinual discussion with Horst, whose fieldwork was much more extensive than mine. 
We are still considering a more extensive volume of these portraits which would 
be an entirely collaborative work. All names and places have been anonymized. 
A considerable amount of additional context is available in Horst and Miller (2005, 
2006), but for a sense of the wider background also see Austin-Broos (1997) and 
Besson (2002). 

1. Jamaica remains in general virulently homophobic. 

2. 'Partner' is Jamaican for a rotating credit scheme. 


Austin-Broos, D. J. (1997), Jamaica Genesis: Religion and the Politics of Moral 

Orders, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
Besson, J. (1993), 'Reputation and Respectability Reconsidered: A New Perspective 

on Afro-Caribbean Peasant Women', in J. Momsen (ed.), Women and Change in 

the Caribbean, London: James Currey, 15-37. 

82 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Besson, J. (2002), Martha Brae's Two Histories: European Expansion and Carib- 
bean Culture-Building in Jamaica, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina. 

Bourdieu, P. (1977), Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press. 

Bourdieu, P. (1984), Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Lon- 
don: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 

Chevannes, B. (2001), Learning to Be a Man: Culture, Socialization, and Gen- 
der Identity in Five Caribbean Communities, Mona: University of the West In- 
dies Press. 

Cell, A. (1998), Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, Oxford: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press. 

Horst, H. and Miller, D. (2005), 'From Kinship to Link-up: Cell Phones and Social 
Networking in Jamaica', Current Anthropology, 46(5): 755-78. 

Horst, H. and Miller, D. (2006), The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communica- 
tion, Oxford: Berg. 

Miller, D. (1987), Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford: Blackwell. 

Miller, D. (1994), Modernity: An Ethnographic Approach, Oxford: Berg. 

Mohammed, P. (2002), Gendered Realities: Essays in Caribbean Feminist Thought, 
Mona: University of the West Indies Press. 

Reddock, R. (2004), Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Em- 
pirical Analyses, Mona: University of the West Indies Press. 

Slater, D. and Miller, D. (2007), 'Moments and Movements in the Study of Con- 
sumer Culture', Journal of Consumer Culture, 7: 15-23. 

Slater, D. and Tacchi, J. (2004), Research: ICT Innovations for Poverty Reduction, 
New Delhi: UNESCO. 

Sobo, E. J. (1993), One Blood: The Jamaican Body, Albany: State University of 
New York. 

Wilson, P. J. (1966), Crab Antics, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 

How Madrid Creates Individuals 

Marjorie Murray 

The intention of this chapter is to demonstrate through an extended essay on a sin- 
gle figure, Manuel, how the concept of individualism is actually rooted in the con- 
straints and possibilities that are given by the experience of living in Madrid. What 
is encountered here is very different from that which is usually meant by the term 
'individualism' as employed in anthropology (e.g. Dumont 1986; Strathern 1992). 
Rather than individualism per se, what is encountered in the figure of Manuel is a 
route to the study of how certain elements of Madrid as cosmology manifest them- 
selves through the individual person. Analysing Manuel's attitudes and interests 
shows why it is necessary to focus first on a cosmology that emerges as much from 
the study of Madrid as from the observation of this individual. We can then come 
to appreciate how this requires a delicate analysis of overlapping levels of the order 
that Madrid provides, the spaces and domains that enable this particular expression 
of the individual. More specifically, I focus on the areas within which Manuel is able 
to make sense of conformity and creativity respectively. 

A Coffee with Manuel 

When I met Manuel in a cafe while visiting Madrid three years after having origi- 
nally met him, he was wearing his underground train driver uniform, which gave 
him an air of adult seriousness that he hardly transmitted otherwise during my time 
in the field. This attitude was no doubt related to the imminent and very expected 
moving out from his parents' into a flat of 'proteccion oficial' subsidized by the 
government, which would be ready by the end of the year. Apart from this, his 
relationship of two and a half years with Eloisa, a Madrilenian waitress he met in 
a bar during my time in the field, gave an impression of a present life that was in 
many ways different to that which I had observed during my ethnography. In the 
course of our meeting he explained to me how things have changed since then: how 
he feels less keen on partying as he used to and how he is much more interested in 
going out for lunch and strolls with his girlfriend during the day, or taking her dog 
to the countryside during the weekends. He made clear that his life is moving on; a 


84 • Anthropology and the Individual 

reason for pride and perhaps relief. This surprised me, as he had hardly manifested 
either frustration or anxiety in his days as a regular informant. These desires and 
wishes I knew, but he was always stoical enough to avoid expressing frustration or 
anxiety apart from the times of common place complaining with others that is usual 
in Madrid. 

He told me about his projects. For example, he is keen on finally buying a car in 
order to take the dog more often to the countryside, and spend more weekends out- 
side of Madrid. He now has the necessary justification for this long-term dream of 
his, which he has quietly been waiting to achieve. He has not changed his cautious 
attitude though. He told me he might wait until the end of the year for the current 
models to drop their price. When I asked him if he had purchased furniture and orna- 
ments for the new flat he told me he would rather wait until it is ready, as he already 
has enough things, including the art history book collection, the many shells and his 
photographs. He knows he has to be very careful at the time of selecting what to buy 
for this small two-bedroom flat, that will most probably be his definitive home, or at 
least one for a long term. 

The current and coming changes are the biggest ones since Manuel got this job 
five years ago. This is his first stable and likeable job after years of working as a 
plumber's assistant. It has allowed him to save enough money and fulfil the require- 
ments to apply for the subsidized flat in a brand new fashionable neighbourhood in 
the north of Madrid, for which he pays roughly half of its market price. It has also 
given him a sense of security and stability that many of his peers would like to have 
and even an attractive air, as people are always curious about his work. Now at thir- 
ty-five, adulthood appears imminent with the departure to his own home, hopefully 
in the company of his girlfriend. Consistent with his personality, he told me he would 
not talk about these things with her until he first moves to the new place. 

Knowing him, I was not surprised by this, or by his claim that he does not want 
to ever get married, as he does not believe in marriage. What I was more surprised to 
hear was that he does not want to have children and that, happily, it seems that Eloisa 
does not want children either. He said that he is much more keen on adopting a Chi- 
nese girl, as do many other people these days in Madrid and Spain. 1 The explanation 
he gave was based on humanitarian grounds, plus that adopting is qualitatively less 
complicated than having children of one's own, and a different kind of responsibility. 
This decision is partially related with his concern with global issues including the 
environment, overpopulation and the suffering of innocent children. More interest- 
ing is his argument about the responsibility of involved in becoming a father and a 
mother. He does not feel prepared and does not like the role of a father as he knows 
it; he also does not trust Eloisa's abilities as a mother. But he believes them both 
capable of giving shelter and love to a child and enabling that child to have so much 
more from life than she would otherwise experience. 

In hearing him discourse on topic after topic, I felt that time had not passed in 
vain and Manuel sounded much clearer and more confident in this preparation for 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 85 

fundamental change. At the same time, I realized he had become even more individu- 
alistic than before, as evident in his self-centred attitude, and the increasing detached 
and judgemental attitude to the world around him. But the concept of individualism 
is always of a particular and usually ill-defined kind. The take Manuel has on indi- 
vidualism is one out of certain quite specific ways in which one can be individualistic 
in Madrid. 

Madrid and Spanish Individualism 

Manuel has always been known and he refers to himself as someone that goes his 
own way (va a su bola). This is a very common term to describe those people in the 
city that have a more detached attitude to other people, others' activities, and who 
decide independently what to do and with whom. This is characteristic of several 
of the city characters — who are to be found in the literature and vocabulary of the 
city — such as the 'chulo Madrileho,' the proud man that goes 'his own way' and 
succeeds in conquering women. What is usually neglected in the description of this 
proud and independent attitude is its counterpart; a huge range of practices that are 
followed with a conformity and rigour that one might never have expected to find in 
a capital city. As is the case with many of my informants, there is a complex back- 
ground of stability, routine and order that allows him to go his way without anxiety 
or sense of anomie. The strength of normativity and the expectations that people 
have of these roles in Madrid formed a fundamental part of my PhD thesis. Unusu- 
ally I approached these individuals and the specific categories of characters that they 
appeared to represent through the study of several relevant genres of material cul- 
ture, using a broad range of informants in the city. In the larger work I provide the 
evidence for a very specific regime that is objectified by the city of Madrid itself; one 
that seems to preserve order and conformity in many areas, but also allows domains 
for the specific expression of individuals. 

Roughly speaking, when we say that individualism is held or practiced as a value 
in a certain society, 'we mean that its people hold the individual to be as important as, 
or more important than, clan, case, estate, race or nation, and that they act in ways 
that enable us to infer that they assign that significance' (Beteille 1986: 121). It is a 
concept rooted in the understanding of modernity, and assumed to be characteristic 
of the (Protestant) West. Different societies have their own versions and emphasis: 
Tocqueville and egalitarianism in the United States, for example. Madrid is out of the 
picture here, both theoretically and ethnographically. In a nutshell, this is because of 
the emphasis on kinship, religion and folk traditions in the anthropological study of 
Spain. There is, however, a relevant discussion that emerges from historical analysis. 
Contemporary individualism in Madrid may correspond in many respects to what es- 
sayists and travellers have described as Spanish individualism (e.g. Menendez-Pidal 
1966; Unamuno 2005; Williams 1929). The same as the already mentioned chulo, 

86 • Anthropology and the Individual 

several characters from Cervantes's Quixote (Weiger 1979, Williams 1929) onwards 
have been described as individualistic, but in a sense that is quite different to that of 
the 'traditional' settings where individualism has been described. Individualism is 
generally assumed to be one of independence, and a lack of interest in communitar- 
ian or group organization. At its best, it is related to the brave spirit of conquistador. 
At its worst it has also been described as simple atomism (e.g. Wright 1957). It 
is closely related to the well-established Mediterranean syndrome of 'honour and 
shame' (e.g. Peristiany 1966); the assumption that the core values in this cultural 
area were the defence of (virile) honour in the case of men and of shame in the case 
of women as its counterpart in a 'cultural area' 2 with a strongly gendered division of 
values. 3 Some aspects of this account still seem pertinent to the individualism that is 
found in Manuel. This is partially built upon the defence of pride and dignity that is 
close to that described in the classical ethnography. It is manifest in the absence of 
need for 'others'. As Manuel puts it T don't like depending on anyone, I like being 

The following section describes some aspects of Manuel's everyday life, first 
when out with acquaintances and then certain aspects of his life indoors; the ne- 
glected intimate circle of support and the set of rules that are fundamental to an 
understanding of his individualism. From there I suggest that this individual's cos- 
mology combines the heavy weight of Madrid's ways of being and doing with other 
more creative personal oeuvres. At first these seemed contradictory. They certainly 
would be if we were looking for an integrated aesthetic as proposed by Miller in the 
introduction to this volume. They make sense, however, if instead we look for their 
integration at the level of Madrid, the city itself. From the perspective of the city con- 
servatism and innovation are not opposed, because the latter presumes the former. 

Manuel and His Manners 

Manuel is a charming man who feels at ease in his city streets. He naturally follows 
Madrid rules of courtesy, for example speaking to strangers in the street by using 
colloquial common places. His companions at work, and the people he has hung out 
with throughout the years, would certainly describe him as 'majo', a sympathetic and 
easy-going person with whom it is good to spend time. In his case this means a lot 
of people, as he has hung out with many different groups throughout his long years 
of nights out, which have migrated according to where the fashionable 'marcha' 
areas are, and the kinds of people he feels more comfortable with. As a first-class 
connoisseur of every corner of Madrid, he also knows several waiters, waitresses 
and bar assistants in the central areas of the city, who would guide him to where the 
best parties are or possibly give him an extra free drink. His openness and ability to 
'meet' new people was an extreme version of the not exceptional search by young in- 
formants for company at hand, acquaintances. This practice of getting to know — and 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 87 

politely exchanging phone numbers — with people to 'quedar', to meet for a drink 
or coffee, fulfils a very different role from what my informants would call making 
friends. Having people to quedar with is a necessity — to share a beer and enjoy the 
city in avoidance of physical isolation. 'I used to quedar with this and that but not 
anymore', was a very common phrase amongst my young informants when I went 
through their mobile phone contact lists. Manuel's case is extreme; his knowledge 
of the territory and rules of the game allows him to turn up at bars and places where 
he knows there will be acquaintances, or at least well-known bartenders to talk to. 
Occasionally he would text an acquaintance in order to make sure they would be at 
the same place, same time. 

When I asked him in the coffee place about the four people he hung out with the 
most during my time in the field, he told me he had lost contact with two of them — 
who he never considered his friends — and that only Mar, a twenty-six-year-old art 
teacher, has remained as a friend. Cecilia, a journalist he used to talk with in differ- 
ent bars they both frequented, he now meets only occasionally. When he feels like 
talking to her, he goes to her boyfriend's bar, where she spends most of her evenings 
these days. Manuel did not hesitate in assuming it was absolutely natural that being 
in a relationship implies a substantial decline in meeting with other people. This 
is the common 'se echo novio/a, pasa de nosotros' (now he/she has a girlfriend/ 
boyfriend and doesn't care about us). In his case, he was simply happy to hang out 
with his girlfriend's friends. This is perhaps the best evidence of how little Manuel 
relies on friendship. Most of the people he knows and hangs out with are providers 
of companionship, which can be readily exchanged for alternative companions when 
circumstances change. 

In order to understand Manuel it is necessary to grasp that which he does rely 
on, that which is taken for granted, as well as his beliefs. Manuel is the elder of two 
of what many locals would call a castiza Madrid family. The term castizo literally 
means pure and in Madrid refers to those that are thought to be 'the real Madrile- 
nian characters'. His father Pepe is a sixty-year-old plumber and his mother Sara, 
fifty-eight, is a nursing assistant. Manuel lives with them in a small two-bedroom 
flat in a block in Vallecas, a traditional working-class neighbourhood in the city. 
They have lived there since before he was born, apart from a period of three years 
in the 1970s in which the family migrated to Switzerland in search of work. The flat 
has experienced an interesting rotation of people. For example Sara's mother lived 
there with them before she passed away, then they rented the second room in order 
to get some extra money. For three years now it has been just the three of them, after 
Manuel's sister Clara left. The couple follow the division of labour that is typical 
for people their age in Madrid: even if both work outside and share expenditures, 
Sara is the one in charge of cooking, washing, shopping, cleaning, ironing, etc. 
The men of the family are committed to paid work outside the home, and mostly 
to relaxing while indoors — watching TV and drinking beer in the case of Pepe and 
watching films and pursuing his hobbies in the case of Manuel. 

88 • Anthropology and the Individual 

The Sierras share dinner almost every evening unless something exceptional hap- 
pens. At thirty-five, Manuel is expected to call or text his mother to let his parents 
know if he is not coming, which most informants living with parents, did. They enjoy 
their meal without speaking much to each other apart from commenting on tele- 
vision programs, the news, or the telling of some anecdote or story from work or to 
complain on the current state of affairs. They spend long hours together in the living 
room in front of the widescreen television which has been placed in the traditional 
wall-to-wall mural piece of furniture. On Saturdays, Sara prepares one of the family 
favourites, a cocido madrileno (traditional Madrilenian dish) or seafood and Manuel 
joins them in time even if he has stayed out at Eloisa's flat. It is extremely hard to 
identify even small acts of resistance to their own rules. 

Sara, Pepe and Manuel agreed that their flat, its furniture display and its stan- 
dards of cleanliness are 'not too different to that of the people around'. This idea 
had drawn my attention since the beginning of my fieldwork: I had to understand 
that, like many other families, their perception was that most homes of Spaniards 
in Madrid shared quite a lot or were expected to fulfil certain standards of posses- 
sions and display, together with their associated routines and habits. The differ- 
ence perceived is one of quality rather than substance: it relates to the standard 
of these possessions or the number of rooms available in the flat, but not about 
the home's essential organization. This was made even clearer with the Sierras' 
and other families' explanations of their home interiors, possessions and customs, 
which they could relate to other families in the city, and teach me about the way 
things are done and held in Madrid, which was the fashionable piece of furniture 
or kitchen implement that everyone now has. There is a sense of pride and dignity 
regarding this common tradition toward which much effort is put, compared with 
originality or specific taste, certainly expected, but something to deal with once 
the former is secured. In many respects the Sierras assume that their first aim is to 
be 'normal' (meaning, average, expected), an adjective that my informants used 
with an amazing regularity to describe themselves, others or the way things are 
and ought to be like. 

At the same time they describe their family as being a 'strange' one {rara, mean- 
ing eccentric, out of rule). They assume that in contrast to most households, their 
expressions of affection are weaker, as well as their relationship to their extended 
family and the several family festivities that take place through the year. For ex- 
ample, they place less emphasis on Christmas celebrations than most people. They 
conduct the basic series of rituals and meals, but they hardly ever meet with their ex- 
tended family or friends and are less excited than many. It is true that the Sierras are 
not particularly expressive in their feelings to one another — the most frequent object 
of cuddles and sweet words is indeed the cat. In their own everyday routine inter- 
actions romantic expressions of love are absent. It is through everyday shared routines 
of contiguity and ritualized activities that they experience and reinforce their sense 
of family, much of which depended upon Sara's devoted effort. Not surprisingly it 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 89 

was Sara that complained most — albeit quietly — about the family routines and orga- 
nization of which there seems to be no way out. She refrained from criticizing what 
might have been regarded as excessive and unfair housework duties and the lack of 
help she has in accomplishing them. Like other women her age in Madrid she com- 
plained more about how boring her husband was, and how little time they spent out 
together, if at all, which is felt as abnormal in a city in which life out is a fundamental 
ingredient for self-fulfillment. As with other informants in a similar situation, she 
managed to escape by finding a way to spend some time out in the city, in this case 
with her sister. 

Even these days out with her sister had become another routine, as are most of 
the activities each of them engages in. For example during my time in the field Sara 
and Pepe went every Sunday to visit Sara's sister in a close-by pueblo (town). There 
they would buy the bread for the week and often some other extra quality foods. 
During our more recent coffee together Manuel told me that these days they do the 
same, but they have changed destination — now they go to their daughter's place in 
another pueblo. Certainly, they have their own quirky and particular customs, which 
identify them to other families. But overall it is their tendency towards routine and to 
accepted ways of being and acting that tie them to a sense of conformity I observed 
in Madrid's families when taken as a whole. They are impressive in their tendency 
for repetition and homogeneity. 

Manuel himself is sceptical of many things around him and declares himself to be 
someone who does not like the society he lives in. He does not believe in politics, the 
corporate world or the media. He also distrusts the apparently profound intentions 
of the people that surround him. Given such a world of appearances he develops re- 
lationships and encounters that are functional to the achievement of the company at 
hand rather than committed friendship. The exception to this is his girlfriend in whom 
he focuses his time and care, cautiously, as his reluctance in her becoming a mother 
or moving in with him show. This does not mean that he is cynical though. There are 
a few things he does believe in. As it is to be expected, the one person he does believe 
in is his devoted mother. She is the one person in the world that will be there for him 
until the day she dies. This relationship comprises a very specific mixture of devo- 
tion and slavery, which is implicated in the concept of motherhood in settings where 
devotion to the Virgin Mary has taken place (e.g. Warner 1985). This is condensed in 
the phrase 'ay las madres' (oh, mothers) which celebrates a mother's devoted work 
and is employed whenever they do a remarkable action of what is expected from 
them. It is a devotion that is two times secured as successful: experienced both as a 
mother's love and care for her child and also the strict social sanction that surrounds 
the role of proper motherhood in this society. These make it impossible for Manuel to 
doubt her loyalty, which is reinforced in the security and continuity found in the ev- 
eryday preparing of meals, ironing and sharing the watching of television together in 
the evenings after dinner. This is the basic, taken-for-granted sense of stability. Life 
behind the flat's door is safe. This is a trend in a society clearly oriented to patrimony, 

90 • Anthropology and the Individual 

one that is less related to ancestral inheritance, financial security or investment, but 
to a sense of safeness in a hostile, changing world. 

Manuel was no exception in feeling a compulsion towards this achievement of 
stability through the unquestioned aims of property, stable work and a partner. This 
is true for him to the extent that when he finally got the flat he joked, saying he was 
now 'sorted' and might get bored from now on. In this context, the impact of having 
achieved a stable job five years ago had radical implications for his status as citizen. 
This is not surprising in a society where a large number of my younger informants 
aim to obtain a permanent work of different kinds in government or public institu- 
tions for which they can spend years studying — this is after formal education — in 
order to achieve a post in one of the most competitive fields. 

In Manuel's case, this job gave him a certain respect within his family and among 
his peers, as well as the possibility of saving money and applying for the already 
mentioned State-subsidized property that he will soon move into. Overall, what has 
traditionally been considered a contemplative attitude of people in this area (e.g. 
Unamuno 2005; Menendez-Pidal 1966) is manifested today in the way that even 
with regard to the core things he is expected to achieve, Manuel and his family both 
believe in and rely on fate. There is nothing like a narrative of effort behind these 
achievements. The job he found through the government job agency; a good job was 
available at the right time, luckily. The flat he has been allocated is luckily located 
in the right — brand new, middle class — neighbourhood. These are occurrences that 
he, his peers and family attribute to his luck, his 'good star' that has allowed him to 
achieve things more easily than others. His strong belief in fate and luck supports 
his stoical attitude to his own life, which he can now take pride in given his growing 
list of achievements, but which could have very easily led to a completely differ- 
ent fate of precarious work and income and no prospects for moving out from the 
parental home. 

Yet there is something else he strongly believes in, and which might seem of a 
completely different order, far from this bedrock of conformity. Manuel is confi- 
dent about his taste. From clothing to art and cuisine, his taste constitutes a pivotal 
expression of who he is in the world. And, as many of my informants, he is quite 
judgemental of those he wants to repudiate or be distinguished from, through this 
individual taste. And it is through his hobbies that he objectifies this personal sense 
of taste. 

Manuel and His Aesthetics: Clothes, Photography and Blog 

Manuel has always been concerned with clothes and has always liked adding some 
special touch to his youthful looks of which he has always been proud. This has 
involved considerable creative effort in keeping up with his own taste; one that is 
intended to avoid what 'most people are wearing' as well as preferring quality and 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 91 

originality to quantity. This is hard work in the Madrilenian context of exceptional 
high street homogeneity and even harder for someone with a very tight budget, 
which has been Manuel's case all his life until very recently. Through the years he 
has developed several strategies to keep up his well-known good taste and original- 
ity in patterns and design. In particular, he has found several small shops — including 
designer shops and outlets — to go to during sales times, which he visits and then 
carefully decides upon one or two garments to add to his wardrobe. 

Because of his sense of care and keeping of clothes and shoes, and of not having 
changed size since he was a teenager, Manuel has accumulated a quantity of clothes 
that allows him to wait until the sales begin before he spends the first euros, without 
risking a loss to his style. At the same time he manages to wear clothes again even 
after a few seasons of storing them, which makes for his unpredictable outfits. In 
the last few years, during which he has started travelling abroad on holiday, he also 
enjoys finding original clothes and trainers, which he brings back and recombines 
with the old ones. 

Overall, his way of wearing and combining clothes is braver and more playful 
than most of the people I know, in a society with strict rules of propriety when it 
comes to clothing. My analysis of clothing in Madrid suggests that this is a place 
where fitting people into stereotypes through their looks is a widespread activity 
and where many actually make their claim to belong to specific groups through their 
use of identifiable kinds of clothes. Manuel allows himself to use colours and pat- 
terns that few others employ, including slight glittery touches that make him playful 
with his sexuality, particularly when he goes out in the gay area of the city. It is not, 
however, a claim to eccentricity; rather, it is a need for a kind of self-affirmation in 
the world through his outfits and hairstyle. These make him original, while at the 
same time elegantly manifest either affinity or avoidance with respect to the differ- 
ent styles of the city. This was clear in the way in which a particular purchase of 
his would usually be admired through the comments of those he would meet on the 
street or by friends. 

Just like many Madrilenians Manuel's real interests and devotions are to the 
time spent outside of work. In his case, he has been devoted to collections of com- 
ics, to downloading music and film and to sharing these with workmates and other 
acquaintances. His favourite hobby in the last years, however, has been photogra- 
phy, particularly after he invested in a quality digital camera. He spends hours in 
the streets taking pictures of the city, the flowers of the 'rosaleda' (rose garden) in 
spring, of friends, or of insects in the countryside and more recently also of his trips. 
He then spends long hours in his room in front of the computer, working on these 
images, employing different software that he enjoys discovering and searching for 
applications as a crucial part of the overall process. It has become a very personal 
way of dealing with the transformation of nature in a comparable way to what Che- 
valier (1998) has suggested for gardening in the case of the English and cooking in 
the case of the French. He captures creatively what is found in the outside world and 

92 • Anthropology and the Individual 

crafts it in the search of a personal outcome that causes in this case, aesthetic plea- 
sure. A lot of this work is kept in his computer files, while other photographs hang 
in the walls of his room. However, I realized at an early stage of my acquaintance 
with Manuel that his satisfaction with this activity is most fully achieved when he 
shows his creations to others. On many occasions he gave his work as presents to 
people he believed might appreciate it even if there is a risk that some will not value 
it. He even tried to exhibit his photographs in one of the bars in the city that regularly 
displays artwork. 

It is as an expression of this last point that we can appreciate the attraction of his 
most recent activity as a blogger, and why it has acquired such an importance for 
him. Following his cautious way of proceeding in life, it took him several months 
before he finally set up his page. He had researched different platforms and ques- 
tioned whether he really wanted to have one. Once he started, it was clear that he had 
thought of every detail thoroughly, from the name to the epigraph and the overall 
design and colours. It claims to be a blog constructed by someone dissatisfied with 
his society but thankful to those that make things a bit better. This is perhaps the 
best description he could have made of himself: a fatalist that wants to get the best 
of what is around. A miscellaneous space, his postings range from pictures — simple 
takes on the street but from an innovative angle, microscopic insects or a crafted set 
of pictures in the train tunnel (see Figure 6.1) — to thoughts on topics that vary from 
curiosities to politics and promoting his friend's clothes shop, for whom he did the 
photos of the autumn collection. Comments on art exhibitions, uploads and com- 
ments on YouTube videos of politicians he criticizes, as well as promoting bars and 
venues in the city (see Figure 6.2), are also part of the picture. This is the place where 
different aspects of Manuel's life, his interests and opinions about his surroundings, 
and the people he cares for are present. It is here that Manuel's desire for care and 
expression manifest with pride — easily observable in his will of others to visit it. In 
this space his sense of ethics and aesthetics are synthesized. It is here that he feels he 
is useful to others and where he can live his involvement with his city and society to 
the greatest extent. 

Individualism in Madrid 

Most of the chapters in this volume concern the individual but not necessarily indi- 
vidualism, for reasons given by Miller in the introduction. But in the case of Manuel 
we have to directly confront the issue of individualism; because this is a designated 
component of the person that is clearly given a specific position within Madrid 
society. It is Manuel that describes and assumes himself to be individualistic. As 
he puts it T need a space for solitude in which I can find silence and tranquillity; 
plus, I don't like to depend on anyone, I enjoy being self-sufficient.' The analysis of 
Manuel's sense of individualism places us at the precise point where — in order to 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 93 

Figure 6.1 Madrid's Metro tunnel from the train. 

understand it — it is necessary to see how Madrid as manifested through the family 
meets Madrid as manifested through independent individuals and where creativity 
meets conformity. As a European capital Madrid is the kind of place where meta- 
sociology assumes the categories of late modernity, including the ideal categories 
of individualism and individualization (e.g. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2001), as 
emerging properties which can be used to explain current trends. On the other end 
of social science — and following the ethnographic tradition in Spain — many would 
also assume that here 'family', even if redefined, remains the dominant unit for so- 
cial analysis (e.g. De Miguel 2002). What the case of Manuel reveals is that neither 
of these alone is sufficient to account for what is going on with Manuel's sense of 
himself, his interests, dreams and fears. 

As I have suggested here Manuel is individualistic in the way the concept is un- 
derstood and lived in classic Spanish characterizations of individualism, i.e. as in- 
dependent and lacking the need of others' favours or commitment. In other words, 
he embodies the exact opposite to the values attributed to individualism in other 
settings such as the American associative society (e.g. Putnam 2000) and theories 
of networked individualism on which the world of, for example, online social net- 
working as presented by Horst in this volume, rely on. Yet Manuel does rely on the 
support and structure given by his nuclear family, as well as a wide range of rules, 
which at first sight could seem contradictory to individualism itself. Creativity seems 

94 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 6.2 Innocent boy in a bar. 

rather to emerge from a permitted terrain that is delineated by familial constraints. 
Yet it would also be misleading to suggest that Manuel prioritizes present or potential 
family or that his life is constituted as family-oriented, as is clear in his avoidance 
of the normative trajectory towards getting married and becoming a father. Instead 
we need to focus on the specific relationship between conformity and creativity and 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 95 

the notion of individual in practice that seems to be at stake in Madrid. This contra- 
diction is taken to its extreme if the assumption exists that there should be a certain 
creativity that emerges from the 'inner' self. 

There are two core characteristics to Manuel's individualism. On the one hand it 
manifests as a kind of independence from other people, be these friends or people 
to rely on. Yet this is a strange kind of independence. Manuel does not express his 
self-reliance and self-sufficiency from other people by keeping himself in the pri- 
vate sphere. Rather, in order to feel and achieve this independence Manuel has to 
constantly return to the street, bars, cinemas; corners of the city, and these days 
also his strolls with his girlfriend whom he actually found in the heart of the city. 
It is more properly an independence from people's intentions and good will. Yet he 
deeply depends on them for the achievement of that independence. The creation 
of this independence is crafted, it is performative and requires the approval of an 
audience, even if an imagined one, as in the case for the blog. This is a theatrical 
performance of self-reliance in which Manuel is at the same time accomplishing 
on behalf of the city the cultivation of a particular character — the individual — that 
is an established aspect of Madrid itself. Similarly Manuel's personal sense of taste 
as expressed in his hobbies and now in his blog is acceptable, because it rests upon 
an unquestioned conformity to the larger duties, rituals and routines of Madrid, both 
within the flat with his family and in his hanging out in the public sphere. 

So Manuel's individualism is not in opposition to Madrid as a site of conformity; 
it is in its own way equally expressive of this dominant cosmology, which includes 
and incorporates the individual as one of its stock characters. This element of the- 
atricality and public appearances is certainly reminiscent of the traditions of a court 
society; there is a history behind what we observe in the contemporary figure of 
Manuel. Madrid, through its 'invention' as a capital and the very centre of the Span- 
ish empire, created a very specific theatre state of civility, with some similarities but 
many differences from that described by Elias (1978) for Paris, or London. Being in 
the street, founding and conforming to the norms of family, or even putting a blog 
out into cyberspace are about the development of certain appearances — appearances 
which depend upon rather than avoid creativity. 

Indeed it is in this second characteristic of Manuel's individualism, its creative 
side, that we find the lack of contradiction between his inner self and Madrid. Man- 
uel is very committed to his clothes and spends a great deal of effort in being original 
and tasteful. This follows directly from what we have just described in terms of the 
need for reassurance and fulfilment of one's individuality in the streets. This sense of 
being inventive and assured in himself is not opposed to his public presence. So the 
evidence for Manuel is entirely different from that general presentation of modernity 
in which it is assumed that the growth of a devotion to intimacy leads to an entire 
disconnection from the public sphere. 

Manuel's sense of individualism and what he really likes doing and feels he wants 
to express is of a specific kind: Manuel is an artist of Madrid, and for Madrid. This 

96 • Anthropology and the Individual 

is not only about the expected need for people to see and accept his photos or visit 
his blog, i.e. the possibility for self-expression. Manuel's sense of expression and 
creativity rely on the capturing, appropriating and crafting what he finds in his sur- 
roundings. Manuel's pictures of the city sunsets, its flowers, its bats, its people and 
fiestas are what he then works on at home in order to bring them out again. The blog is 
about his view and evaluation of what he sees around: what he likes and what he dis- 
likes. Manuel's inner self and way of fulfilment is one that can only take place through 
his life in the city. His bedroom is the place where he works on these creatively, 
thoughtfully; never the starting point. His individual creativity is an expression of his 
relationship to rather than his distancing from the civilization that is Madrid. 


1. In 2006 Spain and Norway led the percentage of inter-country adoptions in the 
world with 12.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Sweden (12) and Denmark 
(10.8). The United Kingdom adopted (0.6) per 100,000 inhabitants (Selman 
2008: 10). 

2. The extensive critique on these concepts and then of the understanding of the 
Mediterranean as a 'cultural area' (e.g. Herzfeld 1987; Pina Cabral 1989) led to 
its virtual disappearance within anthropological work in the last decades. For my 
aim here I only highlight the notion of honour as an aspect to consider for the 
understanding of Manuel's individualism. 

3. Kenny (1960) observed in the 1950s that this gendered division of values applied 
less to Madrid than to the people of the pueblos in the case of Spain. 


Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2001), Individualization: Institutionalized Indi- 
vidualism and Its Social and Political Consequences, London: Sage. 

Beteille, A. (1986), 'Individualism and Equality', Current Anthropology, 27: 121-34. 

Chevalier, S. (1998), 'From Woollen Carpet to Grass Carpet: Bridging House and 
Garden in an English Suburb', in D. Miller (ed.), Material Cultures: Why Some 
Things Matter, London: University College London Press, 47-72. 

De Miguel, A. (2002), Las Transformaciones de la Vida Cotidiana en el Umbral del 
Siglo XXI, Madrid: Centra de Investigaciones Sociologicas. 

Dumont, L. (1986), Essays on Individualism, Chicago: Chicago University Press. 

Elias, N. (1978), The Civilizing Process, Oxford: Blackwell. 

Herzfeld, M. (1987), "'As in Your House": Hospitality, Ethnography, and the Ste- 
reotype of Mediterranean Society', in D. Gilmore (ed.), Honor and Shame and 

How Madrid Creates Individuals • 97 

the Unity of the Mediterranean, Washington, DC: American Anthropological As- 
sociation, 75-89. 

Kenny, M. (1960), A Spanish Tapestry: Town and Country in Castile, New York: 
Harper & Row. 

Menendez-Pidal, R. (1966), The Spaniards in Their History, New York: W. W. Norton. 

Peristiany, J. G. E. (ed.) (1966), The Values of Mediterranean Society, Chicago: Chi- 
cago University Press. 

Pina Cabral, J. (1989), 'The Mediterranean as a Category of Regional Comparison: 
A Critical View', Current Anthropology, 30: 399-406. 

Putnam, R. (2000), Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Commu- 
nity, New York: Simon & Schuster. 

Selman, P. (2008), 'Inter-country Adoption in Europe 1998-2006: Patterns, Trends 
and Issues', Annual Conference of the Social Policy Association, Edinburgh. 

Strathern, M. (1992), After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century, 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Unamuno, M. D. (2005), En Torno al Casticismo, Madrid: Catedra. 

Warner, M. (1985), Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, 
London: Picador. 

Weiger, J. G. (1979), The Individuated Self: Cervantes and the Emergence of the In- 
dividual, Athens: Ohio University Press. 

Williams, G. L. (1929), 'Energy and Individualism in the Spanish Character', His- 
pania, 12: 545-62. 

Wright, R. (1957), Pagan Spain, London: The Bodley Head. 


Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations 

Heather A. Horst 

From theories of the 'network society' to networked individualism, one of the 
fundamental questions of the digital age revolves around the extent to which new 
media and technology contributes to increasing connectedness, or to the frag- 
mentation and atomization of society. On the one hand, new media and tech- 
nology enhance the level and degree of communication, leading individuals to 
communicate in an increasing number of ways and with greater frequency using 
mediums that enable connectivity across time and space (Horst and Miller 2005; 
Ling 2008; Matsuda 2005a,b; Miller and Slater 2000). Yet, these interactions 
may not fully compensate for a broader shift in society that is characterized by 
physical isolation and separation, as defined in relation to 'traditional' concep- 
tions of communities, societies, neighbourhoods and other notions of place-based 
belonging (Low 2003; Castells 2000; Putnam 2000; Wellman 2001). This chap- 
ter explores the relationship between individuals, networks and places through 
a detailed case study of Ann, an eighteen-year-old high school student living in 
Silicon Valley, California, and her engagement with two popular social network 
sites, MySpace and Facebook. 1 As with other social network sites, MySpace and 
Facebook enable account holders to establish personalized profiles with links to 
friends and interests and provide a forum, or space, within which 'friends' can 
interact and 'hang out'. In this chapter I explore how youth construct a sense of 
order in and through these spaces and the interplay between these new media 
and their relationships with places, persons and objects. I further reveal the ways 
in which these media spaces suggest an act of self-construction that is highly 
social, but also constrained whereby individuality emerges through the ordering 
and configuring of space in relation to peers and parents. As in the other chapters 
in this volume, what is significant is not the degree of individualism Ann exhibits, 
but the ways in which individuals exist in alignment with highly socialized media 
of expression. This is perhaps even more evident with social network sites, 2 that 
enable youth to make public the bedroom, a space often viewed as a highly priva- 
tized and personal domain. 


100 • Anthropology and the Individual 

American Youth, Media and Networked Public Culture 

Before turning to Ann's engagement with social network sites in more detail, I want 
to briefly contextualize this particular case study within the experience of coming 
of age in the United States. Whereas earlier work in childhood and youth culture 
focused upon the processes of socialization which shape the transmission of knowl- 
edge and information (Parsons and Bales 1955), recent work on the anthropology 
and sociology of childhood stresses the role of youth in 'shaping, sharing and trans- 
forming their own lives' (Livingstone and Drotner 2008: 7; James, Jencks and Prout 
1998; Cosaro 1994). Within this framework, children and youth are recognized as 
'beings' rather than 'becomings' who are capable of, and quite proficient at, creating 
their own social and material worlds. As is commonly acknowledged in popular and 
academic discourse, the teenage years mark a time in youths' lives where establish- 
ing independence and a sense of autonomy from families and other institutions (such 
as schools) gives way to the influence of friends and peer groups. 3 

In light of the tensions over independence and autonomy during the teenage 
years, the bedroom holds a special place in the imaginations of many youth. Within 
the United States, the importance of separate and distinctive bedrooms for siblings 
emerged in the eighteenth century (Aries 1962; Calvert 1992). As Karen Calvert 
(1992) observes, 'experts and parents believed that children given their own rooms 
would study better without interruptions, take greater pride in their room since it 
was really their own and so keep it clean and neat, and appreciate a private place to 
entertain their friends' (135-6). Perhaps more important, bedrooms emerged as a key 
space in the home because they represented a space of containment, a place where 
middle-class parents could keep their children, and especially their daughters, pro- 
tected from the outside world (Gutman and de Connick-Smith 2008). Contemporary 
work on girls' identity development also reveals the salience of bedrooms in middle- 
class girls' lives. Re-appropriating the spaces of their historical containment, girls 
use their bedroom to express and develop their sense of self through the organization 
and decoration of walls and surfaces (Clarke 2008; Kearney 2006; Mazzarella 2005; 
McRobbie and Garber 2000; Steele and Brown 1995). As a location that tends to be 
'private' (or at least is ideally associated with privacy), the bedroom represents an 
important space for exploration, experimentation and play (Bloustein 2003; Bovill 
and Livingstone 2001). 

The presence of a host of new media in bedrooms — ranging from televisions, 
radios, telephones, mobile phones and computers — challenges the bedroom's status 
as a space of containment and privacy. Nothing has brought this tension to the fore 
more than teenagers' use of social network sites and other 'social media'. The cre- 
ation of a MySpace or Facebook profile and page with pictures, personal details and 
other information is designed to connect and enhance communication between class- 
mates, friends, family, co-workers and other acquaintances. Russell, Ito, Richmond 
and Tuters (2008) use the term 'networked public culture' to characterize the ways in 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 101 

which 'those cultural artifacts associated with "personal" culture (like home movies, 
snapshots, diaries, and scrapbooks) have now entered the arena of "public" culture 
(like newspapers, cinema, and television)'. Although the connections and interac- 
tions between participants qualitatively varies with particular Web sites, interests 
and activities, it is clear that a broad spectrum of kids and adults now participate in 
creating, maintaining and negotiating expanded range of connections using these 
sites. Indeed, much of the research on youth and the Internet have focused upon the 
public nature of these Web sites, particularly the role of an imagined and unimag- 
ined audience. Excited by the possibility of 'hanging out' with their friends in social 
spaces which are largely (though not exclusively) outside the purview of adults and 
parents (Horst, Herr-Stephenson and Robinson forthcoming), youth view social net- 
work sites as important tools and spaces develop relationships with their friends and 
peers. In the following sections, I turn to the ways in which American youth like Ann 
create order in and through the construction, alteration and appropriation of their 
interconnected media worlds. 

Ann: An Introduction 

I first met Ann during her senior year located in high school in a suburban neighbour- 
hood between San Jose and San Francisco. A 'typical' American teenager, Ann's 
primary concerns revolved around clothes, her new car, her upcoming prom and 
spending as much time as possible with her friends. At the time of our first interview, 
she was living at home with her mom, dad and younger sister Becca in their recently 
remodeled ranch-style home. Like other middle-class homes in the area, the house 
includes a formal living and dining room which overlook their landscaped backyard 
and garden as well as 'the shed', a wooden rectangular-shaped building with a wire- 
less connection which houses Ann's father while he works at home as a consultant. 
Their mother uses one of the four bedrooms for her home office. Ann and her sister 
each have their own bedroom which is outfitted with a twin-sized bed and dresser as 
well as an ample desk and chair. Each daughter also has her own computer, a second- 
hand machine from their parents or parent's co-workers, and they have broadband 
throughout the house. Although the house is wired, the age of these second-hand 
machines means that certain programs only run on the newer machine which belongs 
to Becca. For this reason, Becca's computer stores their iTunes collection and some 
of Ann's photographs of friends, scenery and volunteer work in Latin America dur- 
ing the summer. Although they may borrow each other's computers for particular 
programs, they do not share each other's usernames and passwords. 

Looking at the layout of each daughter's room, the sense of order and balance 
immediately comes to the fore. As noted previously, each daughter's bedroom is out- 
fitted with the same basic infrastructure — a bed with headboard, dresser, chair, desk, 
computer as well as a bulletin board which is placed on the wall over each daughter's 

102 • Anthropology and the Individual 

desk — and in rooms which are virtually identical in size and shape. Although the ar- 
rangement of the furniture in the room(s) varies slightly, the walls have been painted 
in a two-toned matte color scheme which is 'unique' to each daughter. Becca's room 
is painted lilac with cream trim. The cream trim in the room is coordinated with the 
cream-colored desk, headboard, dresser and pinboard filled with pictures of friends, 
movie ticket stubs and mementoes from her soccer activities. Her bed linens are also 
lilac and cream. Ann's bedroom consists of cream-colored furniture, the furniture off- 
set by pink walls, pink and brown striped curtains, a brown rug, pink bed linens and 
a chocolate brown comforter. Ann's color coordination continues in the range of pink 
and brown accessories, such as pink pen holders, brown file folders and a slightly 
lighter pink bulletin board which is filled with pictures of Ann and her friends attend- 
ing dances, sports team awards, sports calendars, ticket stubs from a recent Britney 
Spears concert as well as two acceptance letters to college (see Figures 7.1 and 7.2). 

Order and Disorder on MySpace 

Throughout her junior and senior year of high school, Ann was an active My- 
Space user, uploading pictures and commenting on friend's comments on a daily 

Figure 7.1 Ann's desk and bulletin board. 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 103 

Figure 7.2 Ann's bedroom, one week before leaving for college. 

basis. Beginning in the summer of her junior year, Ann also participated in what 
she called 'MySpace parties' which involved dressing up and taking photographs 
individually and with friends to post on their respective MySpace pages. In these 
'parties', which were often provocative in nature, Ann and her friends enjoyed 
trying on different clothing, exploring their burgeoning aesthetic sensibilities 
and sexuality by donning short skirts, bra tops, fishnet stockings or other 'sexy' 
clothes (Woodward 2005). This space was particularly appealing for Ann who 
used MySpace to talk to 'guys' whom she was interested in; because she attended 
an all-girls religious school Ann felt she possessed precious little time for meet- 
ing and interacting with guys. With the incorporation of video on MySpace, Ann 
also viewed videos her friends crafted of 'funny stuff, such as her friends dancing 
or doing other 'random' things. 

While the pictures, songs, personality, quizzes and other content on her MySpace 
page changed on an intermittent basis, Ann's favourite part of her page, and the most 
consistent feature of her MySpace page and profile, involved the incorporation of 
Ann's signature colors, brown and pink. Describing her MySpace page, Ann notes 
that '. . .it's actually the colors of my room so it's like brown and pink. And then I 
don't know. I had ... a default pink so it's like what everyone sees when they see 
a comment.' As Ann suggests, her personal page mirrors the private space of her 

104 • Anthropology and the Individual 

bedroom at home. The walls of her room are painted in a matte-based chocolate 
brown as are the main features of her room, such as her twin-sized comforter, her 
large desk and a large French bulletin board. Other mauve and chocolate brown ac- 
cents, such throw pillows on the bed, the ribbon on her bulletin board, the cushion 
on her desk chair and picture frames, have been carefully selected and arranged 
throughout her bedroom. 

For Ann, brown and pink constitute the backdrop to her daily life in 'online' and 
'offline' spaces. However, after a myriad of media reports condemning MySpace, 
Ann's parents decided to ban MySpace from their daughters' lives. When I first ar- 
ranged to interview Ann and Becca, their mother called my cell phone to inquire 
about interviewing her daughters. During our initial conversation, their mother stated 
somewhat defensively that 'the girls will probably tell you that they are mad at me' 
because she recently made them take down their MySpace profiles after all of the 
major controversy about girls running away or being abducted by strange older men 
lurking on MySpace (see Cassell and Cramer 2008; Buckingham 2000). She con- 
tinued to explain that she did not think the girls fully understood that the site is not 
private and for this reason she decided to take a hard line, forbidding them from 
creating profiles on MySpace. 

Indeed, when I arrived at the interview Ann was quick to tell me that her par- 
ents had banned MySpace multiple times and how difficult this regulation had been 
for her since she used MySpace (and Instant Messaging) to communicate with her 
friends outside of school. This also curtailed her ability to get to know and 'talk 
to' boyfriends before they officially become boyfriends, a practice she felt was an 
improvement upon the serial dating she would have engaged in without MySpace 
(Pascoe forthcoming). The first time her parents banned MySpace, Ann decided to 
change a few things to conceal her usage. A few weeks later her mother discovered 
she still had a MySpace profile and forced Ann to 'cancel it, delete it from there' just 
because 'they're like "oh, you're gonna get raped or something and someone's gonna 
find you.'" Ann 'tried to live without it', but in a few weeks she broke down and cre- 
ated yet another new profile so that she could be 'in' on the gossip and news, one of 
the only ways that she could hang out with her friends outside of school. Given her 
identification with brown and pink, the color scheme was the first aspect of the page 
she decided to resurrect. 

Shortly thereafter, yet another media frenzy made headlines, a teenage girl who 
had gone missing after meeting with a man she met on MySpace. The same day, Ann 
received a call from her sister Becca on her mobile phone while she was babysitting 
to say that she overheard their parents talking about confronting the girls about their 
MySpace profiles. Not wanting to get in trouble for still having a MySpace account, 
Becca immediately logged onto the site and deleted her own profile. Because she did 
not have Ann's password, Becca called Ann so she could change and delete Ann's 
account, thus avoiding a conflict at home. 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 105 

While Ann's parents placed a great deal of pressure on their daughters to stay 
off MySpace, outside of her family, the pressure to have a MySpace profile was 
immense. One week later, a few of Ann's friends decided to establish a new My- 
Space page on Ann's behalf. Although her friends attempted to personalize her site 
by using a nickname, mentioning her favorite songs and uploading a few pictures, 
they failed to carry out one very critical dimension of Ann's aesthetic self, the 
mauve background and chocolate brown font. Between Ann's lack of identifica- 
tion with 'her' new MySpace page and the covert measures she needed to take to 
access the page (usually at a friend's house), Ann's interest in MySpace began to 

Imagining College Life on Facebook 

Ann's dwindling participation in MySpace corresponded with a series of rites of 
passage associated with middle-class American teenage life: prom, graduation and, 
for the privileged, a post-graduation trip with friends to a resort in Mexico. Although 
Ann did not consider herself to be academically at the top of her class, she ultimately 
had the choice of a small, liberal arts college in Washington state or a school in the 
California State University system which offered Ann a small swimming scholarship. 
Her other friends, many of whom were accomplished athletes, opted for one of the 
large land grant schools in the University of California system, such as University of 
California, Irvine and University of California, Davis. Not long after she accepted 
her offer to a liberal arts college in Washington state, Ann received an invitation to 
participate in Facebook, a social networking site originally designed for the college 
community (see Figure 7.3). 

By the time I interviewed Ann again in the summer of 2006, she was fully im- 
mersed in the transition into a new phase of her life and, in turn, a new set of social 
practices. Ann's formal introduction to Facebook came through her future dorm's RA 
(Resident Assistant). Ann's RA sent her an invite to be part of the 'Crystal Mountain' 
wing, part of a wider network of ninety dorm residents attending her new college. In 
the first two weeks after accepting the invitation and creating a page and profile, Ann 
spent hours at a time perusing different people's sites, looking for familiar names 
and faces and checking out friends of friends. Although unable to re-construct her 
page in brown and pink as she did on MySpace, Ann eventually added a picture of 
herself hiking in Mexico. As the summer progressed, she felt that she was becom- 
ing 'addicted' to Facebook, checking it anytime she has a free moment, typically for 
about ten minutes at a time. Ann checked her Facebook for status updates (e.g. if 
someone has changed his or her profile) an average of four to five times per day, in 
effect almost anytime she returned home. Through this brief, repetitive engagement, 
Ann started to meet the other students slated to live in her dorm, the most important 

106 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 7.3 Ann checking her Facebook page. 

and exciting of these new connections being her future roommate Sarah. Describing 
her Facebook page, Ann enthusiastically explains, 

And you can see everyone else's dorm room and I have groups. Like everyone in my 
dorm room is in this group. And you can see like all the others . . . and so like I can see 
who my RA is going to be and stuff and so it's like really cool. And then I have — I can 
show you my roommate! It's really exciting. So I can see her. And so it's, I don't know, 
I can just see a picture of her instead of having to wait and stuff. 

Over the course of the summer, Ann and Sarah 'poked' each other, the digital 
equivalent of touching another person on the shoulder (indicated on the Facebook 
home page by an icon that says 'Sarah poked you') and wrote messages continu- 
ously. 4 Some of these conversations were pragmatic, such as when they planned to 
move, how much 'stuff they had or what classes they thought they might take. But 
the substance of many of these conversations involved exploring how Sarah and 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 107 

Ann would 'get along'. Just as Ann's sense of self materialized through the cre- 
ation of a continuous aesthetic sensibility in her bedroom and on her MySpace page, 
she searched Sarah's Facebook page for insight into what she imagined would be 
a shared aesthetic. The first clues she detected involved Sarah's taste in music and 
media. As Ann describes, 

But actually her and I like a lot of the same music, I could tell from her Facebook. And 
so we were talking about concerts that we've been to this summer and stuff. So I'm 
sure — 'cause she's bringing a TV 'cause she lives in a really, really rich area of Washing- 
ton. And so I think she's bringing a really nice TV, so I'm like I should probably bring 
something kind of nice. So I think I'll bring this [iPod speakers] and then we can both 
hook our iPods up whenever we want ... I'm supposed to bring a microwave but I don't 
think I'll bring a microwave. 

As becomes evident in her discussion of what to bring to college, Ann was not just 
looking for shared interests or commonalities. She was also working to construct an 
aesthetic balance through consumer goods such as iPod speakers which she perceives 
as 'something kind of nice'. Purchasing new, trendy iPod speakers complemented a 
'really nice TV and created a space where they might share interests and, by exten- 
sion, friendship. In addition to discerning each other's taste in music and media, Ann 
and Sarah also decided to upload a few pictures of their bedrooms at home onto their 
Facebook pages of things they planned to bring to their new dorm room (cf . Young 
2004, 2005). Ann was thrilled when she looked at the photographs and saw Sarah's 
signature colors, 'I'm brown and pink stuff and she's brown and blue stuff!' Ann 
surmised that this aesthetic harmony would also signify a harmonious relationship. 

Conclusion: Youth and the Aesthetics of the Self 

Individuality is highly valued in the United States, particularly in a place like Silicon 
Valley where culture and competition are closely intertwined (English-Lueck 2002; 
Saxenian 2006). In American society, adolescence is segmented as a particularly 
important time for discovering and expressing a sense of self that seems 'uniquely' 
one's own, an identity which is separate and autonomous from given social rela- 
tionships, such as families, neighborhoods and communities (although see Coontz 
1992). The locations of self-making and, in the language of Erving Goffman (1959), 
the 'presentation of the self have roughly corresponded with interplay between the 
front stage (public) and the back stage (private spaces). 5 In the age of networked 
public culture, the boundaries between the public and private presentations of the 
self are increasingly blurred. 

Since Hugh Miller's (1995) application of Goffman's symbolic interaction- 
ist approach to homepages, the focus on 'face' and presentation have remained 

108 • Anthropology and the Individual 

central to the study of the constitution of the self and individual identity on the 
Internet, especially the formal (and often static and textual) presentations on web- 
pages and other online sites. However, the material properties of new media and 
social network sites like MySpace and Facebook not only shape the way that these 
are expressed but, increasingly, the very terms and definitions of self. In addition to 
maintaining a collection of 'friends' (boyd 2008, forthcoming), MySpace enabled 
Ann to customize the background color and font of her profile page in the same 
color palate as her bedroom. It was also possible to add favorite songs, videos and 
a range of other features. Indeed, MySpace makes it easy to 'copy and paste' html 
code from others' profile pages and Web sites so that one can customize and copy 
the style on one's Web page; this ability to customize ultimately undermined Ann's 
friends' attempts to re-create a profile after Ann's parents forced her to delete her 
profile out of fear of the 'scale' of MySpace (Perkel 2008). The ability to delete and 
re-create profiles thus structures a very different engagement with digital spaces. 

In contrast to MySpace, Facebook's basic blue-and-white template occurs on all 
profiles, allowing members to upload pictures and customize their information. For 
this reason, Ann appropriated Facebook to develop a sense of her future roommate's 
interests through pictures and to discern decorative style from the pictures of her bed- 
room rather than the aesthetics of her Facebook profile. Ann's strategy of ordering 
via Facebook mirrored the processes of ordering space in her bedroom and family 
home; she felt compelled to maintain a balance in terms of the media which would be 
incorporated into their dorm room (a television and an iHome for their iPods). Ann 
also maintained the order of her future domestic life through the reconstitution of the 
two-toned color palette — brown and blue for her roommate Sarah and brown and 
pink for Ann — the brown working to merge Ann and Sarah's mutual sensibilities. 
Within the context of North American childhood, college also represents a time to 
assert independence and define and redefine one's own routines, habits and morali- 
ties. For most first- and second-year college students, dorm rooms represent a space 
over which they have full control without the input of their parents, siblings, cousins 
or grandparents, often for the first time in their lives. 

One of the interesting aspects of Ann's use of MySpace and Facebook is the ex- 
tent to which she sees her use of social network sites as intertwined with her every- 
day physical environment. This is a direct contrast to the ways in which Malcolm 
(see Daniel Miller's Introduction, this volume) comprehends the possibilities of aes- 
thetic order between the relative materiality of the digital and physical spaces. For 
Malcolm, his engagements on his computer, over email and the 'digital' world are 
purposefully non-material and thus represent continuity between life and death and 
the spiritual world. By contrast, Ann views MySpace and Facebook as places where 
the physical and material — relationships, tastes and connections — are reaffirmed. 
Her engagement in the digital world is only significant in that it reinforces the same 
physical and material objects that Malcolm works to eschew (Strathern 2004). For 
Ann, MySpace and Facebook are tangible spaces where she establishes and asserts 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 109 

her sense of self. In a consumer culture like the United States, Ann essentially con- 
structs herself as different configurations of pre-determined selections within the 
generally acceptable genres of her peers, a person who likes mauve and chocolate 
brown, someone who likes a particular kind of music and someone who maintains a 
balance and order in all of the 'environments' she inhabits. And like many American 
teenagers, her sense of self in the world hinges upon asserting a material presence in 
physical and digital worlds. 

What this analysis suggests is that the literature on the self and self-formation is 
enhanced through a consideration of material culture precisely because the experi- 
ence of what is being created here is not an isolated self based within the mind of 
the individual or a 'switchboard between ties and networks' that 'operates a separate 
community network, and switches rapidly among multiple sub-networks' (Wellman 
et al. 2003). Rather, it is an aesthetic based on the balance between and continuity 
between a variety of key relationships. These may be objects, persons or places. In 
many ways Ann uses her roommate as a critical background relationship for her 
Facebook profile, in much the same fashion she used her bedroom as the critical 
background relationship for her MySpace. The social network sites in which Ann 
chooses to participate extend the mirror in which she comes to see herself and gain 
a sense of who she might be. However, because the sites are used for these tasks, the 
virtual also must be fully grounded and compatible with offline relationships that are 
used to do much the same thing. 

Just as the social network sites provide structures, and in turn, constraints upon 
the way the self is formed and re-formed online, ordering in homes and dorm rooms 
are also carried out within tight constraints. In the chapters by Julie Botticello, 
Gabrielle Hosein and Bodil Olesen in this volume, these constraints are the wider 
social norms or the state. In this chapter, it might appear as merely the private house- 
hold and parents who embody such constraints. As becomes quite clear, Ann's par- 
ents' attitudes and anxieties concerning MySpace reflect the wider normative order 
being established by the public sphere and media concern with potential dangers to 
those who put themselves into the public domain. By the same token it is the norma- 
tive order that provides for and facilities these zones of expression, from bedroom to 
college dorms to a social network site that encourages personalization, as in My- 
Space, or in some ways inhibits innovation as in Facebook. While there are particular 
distinctions in terms of content that are centred around the concerns of youth, the 
situation for these young adults is not particularly distinct from that of older adults. 
In many respects, Ann's attempts to order her world and her bedroom mimic an 
adult playing with the possibility of the house (Dimitris Dalakaglou, this volume) 
or a man finding himself in the mirror of commodities (Magdalena Craciun, this 
volume). Juxtaposing this chapter with other chapters in this volume, it becomes 
clear that participation in social network sites and the motivations that underpin the 
ordering and negotiation of the self in these spaces are not fundamentally different 
from non-youth practices. The aesthetic of social network sites is based on a balance 

110 • Anthropology and the Individual 

of constraint, normativity and innovation that Ann will very likely continue to be 
engaged with, using similar media and forms of expression, in common with groups 
of like-minded peers, for the rest of her life. 


Research for this project was conducted in Silicon Valley, California, between Janu- 
ary 2006 and June 2008 with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur 
Foundation ('Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investi- 
gation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures' project). I thank Danny Miller, C. J. Pas- 
coe and Dan Perkel for their insights on this case study. 


1. For an overview of MySpace (, Facebook (http:// and social network sites, see boyd and Ellison (2007); 
boyd (2009) and Perkel (2008). 

2. There is some debate over the use of the term 'social networking sites' and 
'social network sites' (see boyd and Ellison 2007). Although they are used in- 
terchangeably, I primarily use the term 'social network site' in this chapter in 
order to capture the sense that participants often discuss and understand them as 

3. These descriptions of childhood are particular to 'Western' and American con- 
structions of childhood. For a review of recent work on childhood in a range of 
social and cultural contexts, see Gutman and de Connick-Smith (2008); Levine 
and New (2008); Stephens (1995) and Amit-Talal and Wulff (1995). 

4. Facebook describes 'poking' as a way to interact with friends that is non-specific: 
'A poke is a way to interact with your friends on Facebook. When we created the 
poke, we thought it would be cool to have a feature without any specific purpose. 
People interpret the poke in many different ways, and we encourage you to come 
up with your own meanings.' php?page=20, 
November 8 2008. 

5. For Goffman (1959), the front is 'that part of the individual's performance which 
regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those 
who observe the performance' (22), the space where one 'gives off impres- 
sions to others. Although much of the interaction during the performance shapes 
the continued interaction, longer-term identity formation takes place in the back 
stage, the location where the individual internalizes what has been learned in 
the performance. As Robinson (2007) observes, 'the self internalizes the social 
world as part of the process of anticipating and interpreting the "generalized 
other'" (98). Admittedly Goffman used the dramaturgy of the stage (front stage 

Aesthetics of the Self: Digital Mediations • 111 

and back stage) as a metaphor rather than literal spaces. However, I would like to 
extend this conceptually to illustrate the shifts between private and public which 
are occurring here. 


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Unmaking Family Relationships: Belgrade 
Mothers and Their Migrant Children 

Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic 

This chapter is based on an ethnographic study of the material culture of post- 
Yugoslav migration from Belgrade, conducted in the period 2005-2006 in London 
and Belgrade. 1 London-based stories of Serbian migration were 'classic' accounts of 
struggles for continuity in one's narrative identity (Ricoeur 1992) ruptured temporar- 
ily by the loss of citizenship, 2 ethnic conflicts and genocide, the rise of nationalism 
and dictatorship in Serbia. Those were stories about ruptures, but also about new 
beginnings, new homes, about their new families and their future. Immigrants from 
ex- Yugoslavia whom I met in London belonged to the cosmopolitan city as much 
as they carried in themselves a part of an imagined Yugoslav community (Anderson 
1983) which withered away fifteen years ago with the break-up of Yugoslavia. Most 
of my London-based informants were aged between twenty-five and forty-five; some 
of them had started a family in their new country, few were divorced or single; all of 
them, however, were settled down in London. They are not temporary guest workers 
in the United Kingdom and they do not have a family to feed in Belgrade. In contrast 
to the chapter by Dalakoglou they do not build homes in Belgrade because they have 
a mortgage to pay in London. 3 Most of the migrants had no intentions of moving back 
to Belgrade because of the children, as they wanted them to have a better future. 

There is now a considerable amount of research on these trajectories of migrants 
and their stories, 4 but by comparison there is a much neglected other story which is 
rarely told. What happened to those left behind in Belgrade? What about the ageing 
parents, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces? How are they affected by the migra- 
tion of their loved ones? Do they see them merely as a source of income to top-up 
their pensions? What happens to a parent-child relationship in a specific context of 
immigrants' families in Belgrade for whom it is almost impossible to get a visa for 
any country, and who see their children once a year or once in five, ten or fifteen 
years? For those left behind in the homeland, I would argue, migration of their loved 
ones is often the end of what had been a sustained and significant relationship. The 
relationship does not necessarily cease but it certainly is transformed as a result of 


116 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Unlike English kinship which is characterized by the individuality of persons 
(Strathern 1992: 14), the first fact of Serbian kinship is shared normativity. Thus, 
as the results of my ethnographic research with post- 1990 emigrants from Belgrade 
have demonstrated, relationship between parents and migrant children transforms 
because practices (Bourdieu 1977) of migrant children change compared to those 
of sons and daughters who stayed in the country of origin. My research has shown 
that migrant children are more likely than their non-migrant siblings in Belgrade to 
betray normative expectations in favour of a more, in their view, practical, experi- 
ential relationship. Through clashes between normative expectations and negotiated 
experience in the relationship between Belgrade parents and their migrant children 
becomes apparent an objectification of tensions inherent in different conceptualiza- 
tions of kinship relationships. 

As Miller argues in the 'Introduction' to this volume, instead of juxtaposing in- 
dividuals to society, we look at how the individuals appropriate the world through 
relationships to things and to others. These relationships, according to Miller, con- 
stitute what he terms an 'aesthetic' . This chapter is an attempt to sketch out nuances 
of the aesthetics of a mother-child relationship, as it manifests itself in the context of 
post-1990 Serbian migration from Belgrade. What makes this example particularly 
interesting is a sense of tragedy that transpires from a relationship based on two op- 
posing outcomes, that of a migrant son-cum-Londoner who repudiates prior expec- 
tations, and his mother living in Serbia where kinship relations are still dominated 
by strong normative expectations. Both a mother and a son make sense of their lives 
according to certain normative rules, but when it comes to their relationship, the 
difference between those becomes painfully and irreconcilably apparent. Only one 
event has the power to bridge the gap between the son's and the mother's sense of 
normative, and that is death. 

Mrs Anka 5 is a retired teacher of mathematics and physics in her early seventies. 
She lives in a small town near Belgrade; her son Vladimir has been living in London 
for the last fifteen years. Vladimir was in his late twenties in 1992 when he left Bel- 
grade. The theatre he worked for went on a world tour in 1992; instead of returning 
to Belgrade, Vladimir decided to leave his job in the theatre and go to London. Since 
then Vladimir has never been back to Belgrade. 

The case of Mrs Anka and her son Vladimir is a bit extreme in a sense that Ser- 
bian society is still dominantly patriarchal and family ties play a very important 
role (see for example Milic 1994; Blagojevic 1997; Tomanovic 2004), and Vladi- 
mir's behaviour, though not an exception among my London informants, was not 
common. On the other hand, however, Vladimir's case is typical in a sense that he 
managed to blend into London's diverse social landscape, and similarly to my other 
Serbian informants, he was free to contextualize his existence between a cosmopoli- 
tan Londoner and a 'stateless' person. 6 In other words, there is nothing unusual about 
Vladimir within a London context and in this respect he could easily fit in within the 
framework of Miller's study of people living in a randomly chosen street in South 

Unmaking Family Relationships • 117 

London (see Miller 2008). His case reads as extreme only when placed in a context 
of a parent-child relationship in Serbia. 

In the first part of this chapter I will present the son's and mother's narratives, 
which richly illustrate strategies of making sense of one's life in a post-communist 
and a post-conflict Serbian society; one of the consequences of this turmoil was a 
massive emigration from Serbia, with hundreds of thousands of young and skilled 
Belgraders seeking their fortunes in London, New York, Toronto and elsewhere. In 
the second part of the chapter I will discuss the objectification of a mother-son rela- 
tion in this context of Serbian migration. Following Strathern's distinction between 
mediated and unmediated relationships (Strathern 1988: 178-9), I will discuss ten- 
sions arising from this particular mother-son relationship as an example of unme- 
diated relations which creates asymmetry between the two parties. Finally in the 
concluding part of this chapter I will tie the previous discussion to the concept of 
aesthetics as used by Strathern (1988) and by Miller in the 'Introduction' to this 

The Son 

Vladimir came to London in December 1992. He left behind a job in a theatre, his 
flat in central Belgrade, unfinished studies of architecture, and a girlfriend who 
was pregnant with his child at that time. He also left behind a country that was at 
war in which he did not want to take part. He had subsequently never returned to 
visit Serbia. Vladimir is in his mid-forties now; for the last ten years he has been 
living in the same house in east London, sharing with nine or ten other people. He 
is not married but has a son with his ex-girlfriend from Belgrade. We first met in 
October 2005 for an interview; soon after that Vladimir asked to stop seeing me in 
person and instead offered to answer the rest of my questions via email. It was not 
before March 2006 that he let me visit him in his home. Before going there I went 
through my notes and email correspondence and came across an interesting passage 
about the connection between his London life and events in the former Yugoslavia 
in the 1990s: 

[. . .] It was even worse in 1995 when Krajina fell ... I was at that time working in some 
office, designing a sports hall for a college in Dublin, a fire staircase for a Turkish res- 
taurant, a canteen for a textile factory, counting windows in some warehouse . . . and in 
this finally won deep ignorance, I didn't read newspapers nor watched television, nor 
was I interested in anything going on there. I remember my cold answer and switching 
to another subject when my boss one morning all worried showed me the front page of 
'The Independent' with Serbian refugees fleeing on tractors from Croatia to Serbia. Man, 
he was more distressed than I was and I didn't even understand what was going on! Only 
much later did I understand and feel what actually happened in that dirtiest 'Storm' in 
the West. 

118 • Anthropology and the Individual 

I remember in 1997 when Belgrade was for three months clogged with protestants 
against Milosevic one of our lecturers told me dead serious while we were on a study trip 
in Crete: 'You should be there!' I wanted to hit that infantile spoilt idiot for whom pro- 
tests were something romantic and exotic, a man who never participated in any protest, 
who was never beaten up by police, who hasn't lived a single day in exile nor frequented 
refugee courts which I, thank goodness, had visited all. I didn't have a country, a people, 
a nation, only what at that moment and time I was working on. 

I think you are right, my life doesn't correspond to anything that goes on there [in 
Serbia] nor to what was going on in the 1990s; the thought about travelling to Serbia is 
like a thought about travelling in a time-machine back to childhood, time not present. 
I don't exist there now. Once the relationship with a homogenous national surrounding 
was broken, new horizons had opened in front of me and I now live in a world, without 
a country, without a nation, as a migrant at one place, as a citizen of the world, a nomad 
with a garden. 

Greetings from a room of trees. 




Vladimir's house is distinctly separated between the communal and the private 
space. The kitchen which he shares with other flat-mates is crammed with things 
such as jars with spices, mugs, glasses, pots hanging all over, plants and pebbles 
thrown randomly on the floor, among which a kitchen table and chairs disappear 
visually even though they hold a central position in the room (see Figure 8.1). In 
contrast to the kitchen his living room looks like everything but a space in which 
someone has been living for more than ten years. It is a huge white space of around 
twenty square metres, with a high ceiling and no furniture apart from an architect's 
desk and chair. In one of the corners there is a bare piece of wall with the bricks ex- 
posed; Vladimir explains that originally there had been a massive built-in cupboard 
fitted by hinges onto the wall; as he did not want any solid furniture to take up space 
in the room, he pulled the cupboard out. Behind the drawing desk there is a pot with 
a banana tree, to the left of it a lemon tree; in the left part of the room there is a linden 
tree and in the left corner stands a fig tree. A hammock hangs between the linden tree 
and the fig tree. In the corner next to the brick wall there is a rolled-up mat, which, 
Vladimir explains, serves as a bed. In the left corner there are two smallish piles of 
clothes and several toiletry items (see Figure 8.2). There is a newly fitted wooden 
floor in the room and several small rugs and scarves thrown on it. Behind the lemon 
tree, next to the outer wall facing the street, there are several books, mostly reference 
books — dictionaries, astrology books and one or two on architecture. The architect's 
drawing desk, which does not have any drawers, is higher than normal desks, as is 
the chair. There is a laptop on the desk, a stack of papers and a desk lamp. Along the 
wall on the right there are dried flowers, some pebbles and shells and dried banana 

Unmaking Family Relationships • 119 

Figure 8.1 Kitchen in Vladimir's house (photo: I. Bajic-Hajdukovic). 

Figure 8.2 A detail from Vladimir's room (photo: I. Bajic-Hajdukovic). 

leaves. There is not a single piece of furniture or a box for storing anything in that 
room. Everything that is contained in the room is on display, and everything on 
display is transient. The sleeping mat is rolled up and placed in the corner during 
the day, clothes can be moved from the left corner and placed anywhere else, the 
trees can be shuffled around the room or put outside in the garden, the small scarves 
and rugs are slippery and not fixed in one place on the floor. The only object with 
any storing facilities in the room is a computer. However, not even the computer is 

120 • Anthropology and the Individual 

used to store memories as Vladimir deletes all emails he receives, taking care that 
there is no clutter or memories stored anywhere. This deliberate emptiness strikes 
me as most unusual (although it obviously builds upon a certain minimalist aesthetic 
that is associated with designers and architects) and I try to find out if there is by 
any chance another room or space in which he actually keeps things, photographs, 

'Well, you see, there is no other stuff,' replies Vladimir. 'This is all. What you see in 
front of you, that's my life. This room was completely bare until a couple of months 
ago when I fitted the new wooden floor and put these trees in pots. Until then there 
was literally nothing inside but the drawing desk. I simply don't like to remember the 
person I was yesterday or at any time in the past. Sometimes I would buy a t-shirt, 
wear it only once and then take it to a charity shop. I lost a country, I lost my mother 
tongue, I don't belong to any nation any more ... I am like Corto Maltese, 7 a sailor 
without a ship ... I reject things, people, relationships, I move on very easily and I 
don't want to remember the years gone by and the different lives I've had in which 
I was someone I now wish I hadn't been ... If you really insist to know, there is one 
thing which I kept throughout all these years — a battery charger that I brought with 
me from Belgrade.' 

Vladimir is very systematic in clearing out anything that he thinks belongs to the 
past. This includes documents related to his studies in Belgrade, as well as a hefty 
file with his asylum application: 

The day I got 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' (in the United Kingdom), I burnt, literally 
burnt, all the documents, and trust me after years and years spent fighting with the Home 
Office in courts and repeating the same story of being a citizen of a country which ceased 
to exist in 1991 dozens of times in front of various officials, I had a huge amount of 
papers. I just wanted to forget what I'd been through, the humiliation, the despair, and a 
never-ending fight to prove I had no country to return to. It was such a relief getting rid 
of those papers. Now I'm officially recognized as a stateless person who doesn't belong 
anywhere. There is no continuity; I don't want to have continuity between the various 
Vladimirs I've been so far. 

The Mother 

Vladimir was one of the few London informants who agreed to put me in touch with 
their families in Serbia. His mother arranged to meet me in Vladimir's flat in the 
centre of Belgrade, where his sister has been living since Vladimir went away. Mrs 
Anka greets me outside the flat, at the lift door, smiles and takes a good look at me as 
if I am someone she has not seen in a while. As I prepare for the interview and put my 
notebook and pencil on the table, I suddenly hear Mrs Anka weeping. Her daughter 

Unmaking Family Relationships • 121 

Mirjana bows her head and I sit there feeling very uncomfortable and unsure of what 
to say or do to ease this unpleasant situation. Mrs Anka stutters through the tears: 
'What can I tell you about my Vladimir ... I haven't seen him for fifteen years 
We sit in the absent son's flat, we have gathered to talk about him, the absent son, 
and yet, during those endless minutes of crying his absence is more present and more 
tangible than anything else. His present absence is what makes his mother break 
down in tears in front of a stranger who has come to interview her, what makes his 
sister voiceless and still as a grave, as if he were an invisible conductor standing in 
the room and orchestrating the pool of emotions. 

'I believe that he works so hard there just for sheer existence that he can't afford to come 
and visit us . . .' begins Mrs Anka's story. 'I didn't want to be a burden to him and I said 
"Vladimir, I will come with a tourist agency to London and you will have no obligations 
towards me, I will arrange everything through the agency and we will only meet at a 
specific time, whenever you say, and this is how we will see each other." "No mother, I 
will come" [he would say to me] . . . and it's been like this for fifteen years. God knows 
how many times I've said I would go to see him, regardless of whether he wants it or not. 
And then again I think what's the point in going there against his will, what if he would 
get angry and say — "Mother, why did you come here, we haven't agreed to this"... It 
was much harder in the beginning; it is still hard, of course, but now this wish to see my 
son has become a dream ... I imagine the door would open and Vladimir would come in. 
This is my dream now . . . and I would still like it to happen, but it will be as God says. It 
is all God's will. I am seventy, I approach the end of the life and I have witnessed that [it 
is all God's will] ... I didn't give birth to my son to be separated from him for so many 
years. I thought he would live in our country and that everything would be alright. But it 
wasn't. That wretched war and everything else that was going on here in 1990s . . . horror. 
And the bombardments in 1999 ... as if it were a dream.' 

Mrs Anka goes silent for a moment and then continues: 

He became estranged. I am not sure that it is only because he works a lot that he can't 
visit us. It seems that he accepted that world of alienation and that he doesn't need us any 
longer. The only thing left is when I tell him at the end of our conversation 'your mother 
kisses you' and he replies T kiss you too, mother.' We write to each other on the Internet, 
and every time I try to say some gentle words, he would make fun of it; I guess that's 
his way of pushing nostalgia away and of letting me know that he is not so sad about not 
being with us. He used to be very sensitive, very emotional. I think that severity of tense 
and difficult life over there has made him stronger and tougher. But I also think that he is 
a coward and that he is not so much afraid of the meeting as much as of the separation, 
how he will survive that. . .There is something else there as well. You know, Vladimir 
was pretty handsome and beautiful and I fear that maybe now that he got older his hair 
has become grey and maybe he is bald and that's why he wouldn't send any photos of 
himself to us. When I ask him to send us a photo, he only sends some where you can 

122 • Anthropology and the Individual 

see his profile or something like that. So either something happened with him or he is so 
vain that he doesn't want us to see what he looks like nowadays. Well, he is forty-three, 
you know. 

Mrs Anka stops talking and gives me a long silent look. Even though she does not 
say it aloud, I feel the heaviness of her question hanging in the air. As I sit there 
listening and watching a mother dreaming to see her son, wondering why she was 
rejected as a mother and struggling to find excuses for his rejection, I find myself in 
an awkward position. I become like Hermes, a messenger carrying news from the 
underworld. I know what her son looks like, where he lives, what he eats, I know 
his girlfriend, some of his friends, I know what he does for a living, and I know why 
he will not go back to Serbia. I even have a photo of Vladimir and his house on my 
digital camera in a rucksack on the floor next to me. One part of me is urging me 
to take my camera out of a bag and shower this desperate woman with photos of 
her son, tell her everything that I know about him. And yet I have an equal amount 
of responsibility to protect her son's privacy. The pressure of the mother's unasked 
question feels heavier with every minute. Finally I resolve to answer this question 
and tell the mother what she hopes to hear about her son: that he is very busy, that 
he works really hard which is probably why he cannot visit them, that he did fin- 
ish his studies in architecture and that he looks very youthful. I do not know if this 
has made me a lesser anthropologist, but it seemed the only right thing to do in that 

That was one of my last days in Belgrade and I was soon leaving for London. 
I offered Mrs Anka to send something to her son with me. I offered the same to 
Vladimir before going to Belgrade; he thanked me and said there was nothing he 
wanted to send and that he also did not need anything from there. His mother asked 
if I could take two or three litres of sljivovica. 8 1 accepted to take one litre with me, 
and offered to take something else as well — photographs, books, or some food. She 
shrugged saying: 

He doesn't eat our food any more, not even sausages; his taste has changed. I know that 
he doesn't drink sljivovica either but his friends like it and I want him to have something 
from home to share with them. He always liked to have friends around, to cook, to bake 
cakes ... he was still in primary school when he would bring a bunch of school friends 
home and make pancakes for them... I would only see the smoke coming out of the 
kitchen ... then they would go to Mirjana's room and make a mess in there... Yes, he 
always liked to cook ... It was nothing for him to make a rice pudding and bring a bunch 
of friends over to share it with them. He was a very social boy, he liked to play football, 
to hang around with his friends . . . Though I think in love he was very emotional and vul- 
nerable and he would get really hurt after a break-up. He had that long-term girlfriend, 
he fell out with her, Yugoslavia fell apart, the war started, and he went on a tour with his 
theatre . . . that was the last time we saw him . . . 

Unmaking Family Relationships • 123 

The Relationship 

During the course of writing this chapter I learned about the death of Vladimir's sis- 
ter. She died of cancer in her early forties. Vladimir went to Serbia for the first time 
since leaving the country in 1992, to bury his sister. A couple of months later, he went 
again to Serbia to visit his parents. When I asked him how come he was going there 
for the second time after such a long period, Vladimir replied: 'I went to a funeral; it 
was too short, too emotional . . . One minute mother was crying because of my sister, 
and the next she was smiling because of me ... I had to go there again . . . my parents 
are old, and now that my sister is dead they have no one left.' 

What this epilogue adds is an insight into how differently parents and children 
conceive of their relationship. Leaving Yugoslavia in early 1990s was a must for 
Vladimir; it was a refusal to fight in a war in which he did not want to take part, and 
a refusal to live as a refugee in his own country. After the first multiparty elections 
in Serbia in which Milosevic's party won, Vladimir made a list of all the people he 
knew; he realized that he and his friends lived in a delusion because their impression 
had been that democrats would easily win the elections, and that now with Milosevic 
as the leader of the country, Serbia was no longer the place for him to live. For Vladi- 
mir leaving Yugoslavia was also a refusal to be forced into a marriage that he did not 
want, and an attempt to start a new life without the burden of expectations from the 
family and his girlfriend. 

Objects, according to Rowlands, 'are culturally constructed to connote and con- 
solidate the possession of past events associated with their use of ownership' (1993: 
144). Rowlands argues that the link between past, present and future is made through 
materiality of objects kept (1993). I have argued elsewhere (see Bajic-Hajdukovic 
2008) that not objects alone but relationships as well are the embodiments of memo- 
ries and as such they can also create links between past, present and future. Thus by 
rejecting both objects and people that may bring memories of his past, Vladimir not 
only repudiates the past, but rather the link between his past, present and future. He 
wants to live his life in London free from expectations from his family in Serbia, free 
from a burden of a contested Yugoslav identity, free to choose to work as an architect 
and/or a bicycle courier, and free to create his future as he wishes. 

As much as Vladimir was concerned about his present life and trying to get rid of 
burdensome traces of the past, his mother was constantly slipping back into the past 
throughout our encounter. For Mrs Anka, her son is a reified memory of the boy she 
raised. While her daughter was alive, Mrs Anka could enact a mother-child relation- 
ship characteristical of the Serbian patriarchal society in which a child is expected 
to act as a child as long as the parents are alive. Thus to be rejected as a mother in a 
mother-child relationship by one child, while being able to maintain such relations 
with another child, was even more hurtful since she could compare the two relation- 
ships. She laments that she had not given birth to her son merely to be separated 
from him for so long, and she blames the war for this misfortune. In a mother-child 

124 • Anthropology and the Individual 

relation where a son refuses to enact his part, the absence of a son implies an absence 
of a mother as well. To mourn the missing son is to mourn the missing mother as 
well. The grave atmosphere which characterized most of my encounters with moth- 
ers of emigrant children from Belgrade was thus not only caused by grief felt for a 
child who had gone away for good; it is as much a lament over one's own loss of 
'mother' in herself. 

In a study of shopping in North London, Daniel Miller (2001) argues that anxieties 
and tensions that arise from a mother-child relationship stem from clashes between a 
mother's idealized image of her child with that of her real child. Mothers in Miller's 
study would go shopping for food thinking about what would be best for their child 
to eat; however, when confronted with a fact that a child does not necessarily want to 
eat what is good and healthy and prefers the taste of what mothers often considered 
'unhealthy', the mothers would then try to find a compromising solution that would 
hopefully satisfy at least to some extent, both child and mother. Miller's argument is 
that relationships and kinship are not relational and processual as Strathern and other 
social scientists have argued (see for example Finch and Mason 2000; Carsten 1995, 
2004), but that they are instead a result of negotiating relationships within a strongly 
normative framework (Miller 2007). 

Following on from these debates I would argue that my material lends support to 
a third view on parent-child relationship different from both Strathern's and Miller's. 
While Serbian kinship is still dominated by normative expectations from both par- 
ents and children, in the context of migration it is not uncommon to find that adult 
children often evade these norms in relation to their parents, thus creating serious 
cleavages and misbalances in kinship ties. In effect the mothers maintain a view of 
kinship that is close to that of Miller, while the children are striving for something 
closer to Strathern's model. This, however, does not preclude the possibility of mi- 
grant children imposing normativity onto their relationship with their own children 
as things stabilize around a new order. 9 

Relations between mothers and children are characterized by Strathern as 'un- 
mediated' because both mother and child have a direct impact on one another. 'The 
capacity to have an unmediated effect', argues Strathern, 'creates a distinguishing 
asymmetry between the parties' (Strathern 1988: 178). The way this relation mani- 
fests itself, or in other words, the way that a relation between 'mother-as-term' and 
'child-as-term' becomes apparent, Strathern calls 'objectification' (Strathern 1988: 
181). According to Gell, Strathern refers to objectification as an 'aesthetic', 'that is 
a system of social conventions within which appearances indicate which relations 
between which terms' (Gell 1999: 37). Gell warns us that Strathern does not use the 
term 'aesthetics' in its literal meaning, i.e. in relation to sensory appeal, but rather as 
'the metaphysical project of deriving the world of appearances from, or at any rate, 
via, the Idea' (Gell 1999: 38). In the 'Chapter One' to this volume Miller uses the term 
'aesthetic' to connote the balance and form according to which people make sense of 
their lives and create order (see Miller, page 6-8). The concept of 'aesthetic' in both 

Unmaking Family Relationships • 125 

Strathern's and Miller's terms is used to describe how human relationships both with 
others and with objects manifest themselves in the world. Miller's use of the term 
'aesthetic' relates to a wider holism that implicates both the individual and the wider 
society. But often that which links the two is the kind of aesthetic that is the subject 
of Strathern's use of this term, as a means to understand the nature of relationships. 
So there is a considerably greater compatibility between Miller and Strathern in their 
theory of the aesthetic than in their approach to kinship. 

When 'aesthetics' is taken from these academic debates and recast through the ex- 
ploration of migration and its consequences, other implications emerge. The detailed 
presentation of a single mother-child relationship that occupies most of this chapter 
brings out the poignancy, and maybe even a sense of tragedy, that is contained in 
this term 'aesthetics', when we think in terms of actual individuals. If the academic 
analysis has credibility it is partly because their arguments over incompatible per- 
spectives has at another level become the extreme difficulty that a mother and son 
have in reconciling their own perspectives. As an academic dispute between dif- 
ferent contemporary theories about kinship this is not particularly tragic, but as an 
incommensurable perspective within a family, it reaches the heights of tragedy, with 
many wounded survivors coming out of the battle between kinship expectations and 
individual interests. 


1. The fall of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the ensuing ethnic wars in Croatia and Bos- 
nia and Herzegovina had as a consequence massive migration movements both 
within the region of the former Yugoslavia and outbound towards Western Eu- 
rope, North America and Australia. Numbers of refugees and internally dis- 
placed people have risen even higher after the NATO bombardments of Serbia 
and Montenegro in 1999. In addition to involuntary migrants, another half a mil- 
lion of young people have emigrated from Serbia since 1991, fleeing the political 
regime of Slobodan Milosevic and raging nationalism, army conscription and 
poverty. According to estimations of the Serbian Ministry for Diaspora, there 
are more than three million Serbian immigrants abroad, which is more than one- 
third of the current population of Serbia, estimated to be seven and a half million 
(Maletic 2006, Serbian Ministry for Diaspora, personal communication). 

2. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, country of immigrants' origin, 
disintegrated in 1991. 

3. Other research (see International Organization for Migration 2006) about migrant- 
sending households in rural Serbia to which Serbian guest-workers in Switzer- 
land send regular remittances concurs with Dalakoglou's findings in Southern 
Albania. Similarly to Albanian migrants in Greece who build Greek-style houses 
and furnish them with luxury furniture only to leave them empty, as described 

126 • Anthropology and the Individual 

by Dalakoglou, Serbian guest-workers in Switzerland build enormous houses 
of ten rooms or more in their villages in Serbia with building materials sent 
from Switzerland, furnish them with Jacuzzi bathtubs even though there are no 
running water hook-ups, and often leave them empty, with the idea of moving 
into them upon retirement (IOM 2006: 42-3). I have argued elsewhere (Bajic 
2007) that this difference in sending practices among migrants from rural as op- 
posed to urban parts of Serbia serves as a class signifier to distinguish between 
'peasants' on the one side, who are expected to financially support their extended 
families (such was the case in 'zadruga', a collective household, before the 
Second World War, in which resources were pooled and children were valued 
primarily for their usefulness to the collective), and on the other side 'modern 
urbanites', who treated children as luxuries and did not expect them to provide 
for the family. 

4. For ethnographic monographs about immigrants in the United Kingdom see, 
for example Bhachu 1985; Foner 1979; Gmelch 1992; Hall 2002; Werbner 
1990; for immigrants in France see Beriss 2004; Brettell 1995; Silverstein 2004; 
for examples from the United States see Chavez 1992; Freeman 1995; Gold 
1995; Grasmuck and Pessar 1991; Guest 2003; Holtzman 2000; Koltyk 1998; 
Lessinger 1995; Mahler 1995; Margolis 1994; Nash and Nguyen 1995; Stepick 
1998; Stoller 2002 (cited in Brettell 2008: 114). Literature about post-1990 im- 
migrants from the former Yugoslavia focuses mostly on Bosnian and Croatian 
refugees and their experiences in host societies; see, for example Al-Ali 2002a,b; 
Colic-Peisker 2003; Eastmond 1998, 2006; Franz 2003a,b; Jansen 2008; Kelly 
2003; Korac 2003a,b; Markovic and Manderson 2000a,b; Owens-Manley and 
Coughlan 2000; Povrzanovic-Frykman 2002; Waxman 2001; Wight 2000 (cited 
in Jansen 2008: 186). 

5. Names of informants in this chapter are pseudonyms. 

6. Vladimir belongs to generations born and raised in Tito's Yugoslavia and for 
whom Yugoslavia was their homeland; with the fall of Yugoslavia in 1991, 
Vladimir and many more from those generations lost their homeland; they be- 
came 'apatridi'. 'Apatrid' in Serbian translates as 'stateless person' in English. 

7. Corto Maltese is a character from an Italian-French graphic novel written and 
drawn by Hugo Pratt, one of the most famous Italian graphic novel artists of the 
twentieth century. 

8. Plum brandy, in this case home-made by Vladimir's father. 

9. For further analysis of this issue see Bajic-Hajdukovic 2008. 


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Fashioning Individuality and 

Social Connectivity among Yoruba 

Women in London 

Julie Botticello 

In contrast to most discussions of dress and Diaspora, the focus of this chapter is not 
on clothing as an expression of political or ethnic identity, but on how clothing medi- 
ates the relationship between an individual and her community. Dress, as Oyetade 
notes, is one of the more prevalent forms of explicit identification among Yoruba 
people in London, with many dressing in Yoruba textiles and clothing designs in 
the warmer weather, but especially for ceremonial life, such as naming ceremonies, 
house warmings and weddings (Oyetade 1993: 74). As clothing 'speakfs] socially' 
(Sennett 1986: 165), this dressing is not only of personal importance but also public 
because, as Hendrickson argues, the surface of the body has implications for both 
individual and social identities; 'being personal, it is susceptible to individual ma- 
nipulation. Being public, it has social import' (Hendrickson 1996b: 2). For African 
women, Dogbe argues that dress is the means by which women 'construct meaning 
in their lives and publish their presence in the community' (Dogbe 2003: 391). Cloth- 
ing and body coverings express ideas to the wearer about herself, to those outside her 
looking on, and to the connections or disparities between these. 

For a people living in the land of their former colonizer the issue of dress could be 
a highly political expression of identification, as Dogbe sees it, constructed in 'the in- 
terstices of multiple cultural and socioeconomic grammars — colonial, local, global, 
and neocolonial' (Dogbe 2003: 382). In this arena, how one dresses can express as 
much individual identification, internal cohesion within a group, incorporation of 
new ideas, as it can resistance to oppressive schemes of control and subordination. 
This 'polyvalency' (Durham 1999) is one of the key points about dress, of its abil- 
ity to embody multiple meanings dependent not only on context, but also on the 
perspective from which it is viewed, rendering dress able to be 'read in many ways' 
(Maynard 2001: 190). Even in the context of living in the seat of former colonial 
power, what dress means and to whom is similarly multiply inflected. 

While some of the discourses on dress address macro-political issues, with par- 
ticular reference to identification in the context of Westernization (Allman 2004; 


132 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Dogbe 2003; Friedman 1994; Hendrickson 1996a; Maynard 2001; Okpokunu et al. 
2005; Rabine 1997, 1998; Ruether 2002; Schneider 2006), as James notes, others 
are 'perceptible no more widely than within local communities themselves' (James 
1996: 34). Harris states that among the Yoruba involved in an Aladura church in 
London, a low political profile was the aspiration, and that these church members 
'preferred public invisibility to a political presence' (Harris 2006: 37) to protect their 
interests and status as guests in the United Kingdom. This is not to say that ano- 
nymity prevails, but overtly active opposition to the host country and its ways were 
not the methods employed for identity expression. By maintaining a focus on the 
macro-politics of dressing, one tends to lose the nuances of individual identification 
implicated in dress as addressed to the collective. As James shows, on the micro 
scale, there is much to understand about how dress is acutely implicated in individual 
women's lives in relation to her parents, her husband, her education and her work. 
Through an exploration of the dress practices of an individual as these occur in the 
context of daily life, one can see the divergent connections which are expressed be- 
tween the self and the social, and glean a picture of the logic which underpins these 
materialized relations. 

This is the context for the chapter that follows. It focuses on dress practices in 
London among Yoruba women connected to a local street market and how these re- 
late to the notion of the individual and to her social standing within the wider group. 
Research undertaken on a London street market during the period 2005 to 2006 
particularly focussed on the life of one stall holder, and this chapter reflects that con- 
centration. Highlighted here will be dress and its relation to other materializations 
of self and social identity at significant rite-of-passage birthday celebrations. Along 
with the events listed by Oyetade above, significant birthday parties are also some- 
thing celebrated with splendour among the Yoruba. As Guyer notes, 'the party has 
become a major institution in Yoruba areas. Graduations of social importance — of 
occasions, of families, of individuals — are all given material meaning in the context 
of the party' (Guyer 1994: 243). A glance through Ovation, The Entertainer, High 
Life, or GEMS International magazines reveals a profusion of such celebrations, tak- 
ing place both in Nigeria and abroad. These reveal not only the significance of par- 
ties, but also the importance of dress as a prime constituent of their materialization. 
Although the presentation of parties in these magazines concentrates upon a rich 
minority within Nigeria and the Diaspora, these events are generally celebrated by 
Yoruba people in London, where both throwing and attending parties is an important 
part of their lives here. 

Oyewumi argues that among the Yoruba, 'as social relations derive their legiti- 
macy from social facts . . . how persons were situated in relationships shifted depend- 
ing upon those involved and the particular situation' (Oyewumi 2005: 13-14). As 
will be seen in this chapter, the individual and her clothing stand at a pivotal point 
in the making both of herself and of the group, such that one is dependent upon the 
other for recognition and support. Attaining these two divergent aspirations is not 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 133 

without conflict, however, as the individual strives to find the necessary social bal- 
ance between autonomy and association. 

Autonomous Assertions 

Jo is a respected and active member of the Yoruba community in London. In her 
early forties, she has been living in London for nearly two decades. Although di- 
vorced from the father of her two teenage sons, she has since remarried and given 
birth to another child, also a boy. She runs a market stall in a south London street 
market from which she sells a variety of herbal remedies for health care, body main- 
tenance and restoration and gives advice on health issues. Her customers range from 
those seeking to shed a few pounds to others looking to leave their hypertension 
drugs behind through the taking of an alternative herbal treatment. People travel 
from all zones of London to visit her stall and seek her advice; in exchange for their 
custom and their continued purchasing of her goods, she gives to them her time and 
her knowledge. Jo prides herself both on the value of her goods and on her ability to 
sell, stating that what brings customers to her stall is the singularity of her wares, 'It 
is uniqueness that sells in any market. Uniqueness. If you are unique in what you do 
[people will come to you].' This uniqueness is not just evident in her goods. It is also 
evident in herself. If the singularity of her goods entices custom, it is her expertise 
which seals the deal. According to Jo, her customers 'are not just buying my things, 
[they] are buying my knowledge'. 

Before taking on a stall, Jo used to have a shop, also local to her home, where 
she sold homemade oils and body creams. During the few years she has been selling 
in the market and in her shop, Jo has built up a network of clients, some of whom 
have become close friends. These she speaks to regularly in person when they pass 
down the market, or by telephone, should someone not appear for a while. In the 
workaday situation, practical exchanges take place between herself and her fellow 
female Yoruba stall holders, such as sharing child care, lending money or simply 
minding a stall for another having a break. Other less intimate exchanges also take 
place between Jo and the English stall holders, mostly for giving change, but also to 
share the odd joke and pass the time. When leaving the market for the day, Jo stops 
to greet and exchange news with a number of traders, making her departure from the 
market a slow one. Should Jo decide to take in some shopping on the high street after 
closing her stall, or later, when traveling back home on the bus, these events too are 
punctuated with further dialogues with those she counts among her acquaintances. 

On the occasion of her fortieth birthday, Jo decided to have a big celebration. Hav- 
ing built up a network of association among fellow stall holders, customers and local 
shop keepers in the area, as well as other members of her faith, Jo had the potential 
to throw a reasonably large party for herself from these diverse connections. To this 
end, she rented a hall not far from the market. She engaged the cooks, organized and 

134 • Anthropology and the Individual 

sent out the invitations, bought token presents to give to the guests, arranged for a 
DJ, got in supplies of alcohol and drink. She worked out a colour scheme — green 
and yellow — for the party, on the night decorating the hall in matching balloons and 
tablecloths. In short, she organized, planned and implemented to make sure that ev- 
erything would work out at the party as she envisioned, relying on exchanges with 
different of her associations to make it happen. 

Eager to be included in this event, I also offered my services in a capacity I felt 
I could fulfil, and became engaged in designing and printing the invitations to her 
specifications. She wanted an image of herself on it, with a pink, yellow and green 
colour scheme, and some information about what the party was for and where it 
would take place. As she wanted it to be a 'world party', this theme was put across 
on the invitations, with the words '40th birthday cocktail party', 'world music', 
'healthy food', and 'an 8 o'clock start' clearly stated on the cards. In all, 150 invita- 
tions were printed and distributed, as after the first printing of 100 invites ran out, 
a further 50 were run to include more people. She stressed that many people asked 
for an invitation in hand and would not come without the material formal request, as 
a verbal invite would not suffice. It seems that to be invited was a privilege, which 
needed concrete materialization as a card, tangibly confirming one's social status 
with Jo. 

Running out of invitations was one of her concerns as this meant not being able to 
extend an initiation to those in her vast social network. Moreover, these fears were not 
unfounded, for after the party, she was chastised by some of her Yoruba and Nigerian 
acquaintances who had not been given invitations. Having heard of her party from 
mutual associations, these non-guests were upset at their social exclusion, thereby 
not being allowed to enter into the flow of social circulation. 'Attendance itself [to 
parties] — just being there — offers a stepping stone, a minimal common ground for 
the creation of stronger ties between people' (Guyer 1994: 244). An invitation was 
an opportunity to manifest or stretch one's own social prowess and connectivity. Its 
absence could imply a lesser social status than those included. 

Others were not only invited, they were active participants in the creation of the 
event. Regarding the food and service, Jo engaged a few Yoruba women friends to 
do the catering and food service preparations. Of these, one was a fellow stall holder 
on the market; another, the tailor who made both of the outfits Jo wore that night. 
More were involved in the food preparations, including Diana, the host of a sixtieth 
birthday party to take place the following year, and Ayo, a young woman who some- 
times baby sat Jo's youngest son while she worked. Not entirely visible during the 
party's preparations, these helpers dressed in their normal clothes while working, 
and then changed into fine Yoruba dress once their set-up work had been completed. 
After the party and back on the market, Jo introduced some of these women to me as 
those who 'did the food' for her party. Her network of debt association was essential 
for this aspect of her party to be a success and was something she seemed happy to 
engage in. 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 135 

This involvement of others in this process, however, is not always welcome. An- 
other woman, Toyin, connected not to the market but someone I met at a Yoruba cul- 
tural association in London, had battles with her friends over the food preparations 
at the forthcoming wedding for her daughter. Because she wanted things run with 
absolute precision, Toyin announced to those who wanted to 'do the food' that they 
could do so only if they were not also guests at the event. 'To take part, people want 
to help when it suits them . . . The lady who says she is going to do the cooking, she 
is harassing me in the hall, and then she said something and I pretend I didn't hear it. 
And I hear that she wants to be in the hall dressed up and celebrating! And when we 
got home, I asked her, "Tell me what your programme is on that day, because I think 
I heard you say you want to come and sit at the table. If you are going to sit at the 
table, you are not going to be in charge of the food, I cannot leave that to chance." ' 
Durham notes that for women in Botswana, 'to be able to act autonomously and to 
command the labour of others are compelling aspirations' (Durham 1999: 394). Here 
Toyin wished to command the labour of the woman solely on her own terms, with no 
social returns to the helper, who also wanted to socialize as an invited guest, 'cross- 
ing thresholds' (Barber 2007) between back stage cook and front of house guest, so 
that she could be valued for her individuality as a guest as well as a contributor to the 
party's overall success. The identities of those 'helping out' are multiply enmeshed, 
as are the clothes they wear to undertake these, where their own dress embodies the 
different roles they play in the production of the event. 

Although Jo did not contest the back stage versus front of house identity of her 
helpers-cum-guests, she did have her own crisis when friends forced the issue about 
her own dress for the night. On the market before the event, Jo said that she was 
being hassled by her friends to wear the 'right' clothes — 'traditional' dress and shoes 
and bag — to her party. She complained that she didn't like the material offered by 
Gladys, her home sewing tailor friend, food preparer and guest, and wanted to assert 
herself by defiantly wearing clothes of her own choosing — a short skirt and boots. 
She even suggested we go shopping in Harrods to buy these, provisionally planning 
a shopping trip in town for the following week, though, this was never followed up. 

On the night of her party, when Jo presented herself to her guests, she did so in 
two outfits. She made her first appearance in a two-piece fitted outfit, a skirt and 
blouse, peach in colour and African in design. This was complete with matching 
shoes and bag, and a necklace and earring set made by Helen, a Yoruba woman who 
designs jewellery and is a customer from the market. Later in the evening, when Jo 
presented herself again, it was in an even more grand manner, as she wore a 'tradi- 
tional' Yoruba outfit consisting of a green and gold buba (blouse) and iro (wrapper), 
gele (head-wrapper) and ipele (sash), with another necklace and earring ensemble 
made by Helen, together with green shoes and matching bag. Jo never appeared in 
'her own clothes'. Rather, she was dressed in items which literally embodied her 
social connections. These were those close friends who were responsible for the suc- 
cess of the party, not just in Jo's appearance, but as in the case of Gladys, for the food 

136 • Anthropology and the Individual 

as well. Jo's dress was an objectification of these connections with others, without 
which she could not have manifested a successful event. 

Discourses on dress and bodily coverings, Durham argues, are not confined to du- 
alist, reductionist narratives, nor are the conflicts purely societal. 'Heteroglossia ... is 
also a condition of human consciousness; even "inner thought" enters into discourse 
with different potential meanings' (Durham 1999: 391). Jo battled within herself 
and with her friends over how she should present herself on the night of her own 
birthday, with conflicts between what she would have liked to do and what she must. 
Although Jo wished to deviate from the expectations and demands of her friends for 
their own expression of their social reach, perhaps even, like Toyin, to command la- 
bour and at the same time remain autonomous, she found that in the overall running 
of the party, from food preparation to her dress, she could not. 

Rather, it was made essential that she conform to a 'moral aesthetic' (Durham 
1999: 392). This, as Miller argues in the introduction, is not necessarily one of vi- 
sual harmony, but one which objectifies a sense of 'internal consistency and order' 
(Miller, this volume). Whereas Jo did not struggle with maintaining that aesthetic for 
the food service, she did when these social relations impinged upon her own physical 
appearance. By protesting and attempting to be dressed just 'as herself, Jo wished to 
avoid these robes of association, those garments and adornments which objectified 
her social support networks. In the wearing of these vestments, the status of these 
supporters becomes objectified through Jo's clothes attesting their own significance. 
Through the dress Jo's friends insisted she wear, it was revealed who she was — a 
respectful Yoruba woman completing a landmark rite of passage, with enough fi- 
nancial and social resources to dress well (twice over) — as well as to whom she was 
connected, namely her market women colleagues and friends without whom she 
would not have been able to reveal the former in this public context. As Byfield 
states, for the Yoruba, one's dress indicates 'one's gender, identity, character, wealth 
and status', it also 'determine[s] and negotiated] social relationships' (Byfield 2004: 
31). To reveal the former, that is Jo's individual identity, it was necessary that she 
also reveal the latter, the connection to and support from her friends. 

This emplacement of the individual within a social support network can also be 
seen to work in the reverse. Whereas in the previous example, Jo was unwilling to 
wear the clothes which revealed her connections, in the following example, Jo ac- 
tively adorns the dress of others to gain their support. Deviating momentarily from 
ceremonial life, we move back to the street market, and forward to July 2006, when 
the England football team was playing in the World Cup. On the market during this 
season, many of the English stall holders adorned their stalls with red-and-white 
England flags or wore the football shirt of their nation's team. On one visit down to 
the market, one of the English stall holders told me that Jo also supports the England 
team, coming to the market dressed in the country's signature red and white on the 
days of England's matches. He'd even got someone to snap a photo of himself and Jo 
in this dress, on his mobile phone, which he then went on to show me. The next time 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 137 

England were scheduled to play a match, as anticipated, Jo appeared on the market in 
her 'I support England' gear: a white top and a red skirt, with a mini flag of the cross 
of St. George tied around her head (Figure 9.1). Although Nigeria were not playing 
in the World Cup as they hadn't qualified, Jo said that her demonstrations of support 
for the England team earned her much flack from her fellow compatriots for being a 
traitor. As related above, her English colleagues, however, were incredibly pleased 
with this expression of her affinity. 

Jo's dress and her intentions on the occasions of her birthday party and the foot- 
ball matches differ significantly; in the end, however, these are guided by a similar 
logic or aesthetic and cause a similar result. In the former, although at first unwilling, 
her dress was a literal and material embodiment of her social relations which, in the 
widest sense, made the honouring of herself in the form of her birthday party pos- 
sible. The social connections involved enabled both herself and other Yoruba women 

Figure 9.1 An England flag worn as a head scarf during the 2006 World Cup. 

138 • Anthropology and the Individual 

to assert their individualities through their emplacement in the wider collective. In 
the latter, through her choice of dress, Jo sought to insert herself into the popular 
culture of the host country. Although wearing only one specifically purchased object, 
the England flag, through her choice of red and white clothing, Jo nevertheless com- 
municated her willingness to be allied with this nation. At the same time, by wearing 
the flag tied as a head scarf, she also retained her own identification as an African, 
Nigerian or Yoruba woman, asserting her individual character in this extended iden- 
tification. Far from expressing the depth of a 'pathological colonial psychology of 
self -hatred' (Schneider 2006: 212), Jo's dress suggests instead a logic of dress as a 
materialization of social connectivity, this time transposed into a new potential circle 
of association. As a regular trader on the market, she also needs the goodwill and 
support of her fellow English stall holders to make her work environment pleasant 
and to get support from them should she need it. Although her self-constructed dress 
did not objectify present relationships with significant others upon whom her social 
standing rested, Jo's embodiment of England colours from her own clothes sug- 
gested instead a willingness for potential involvement. Whereas the desire to wear 
her own clothes at her birthday party represented autonomy, in this case Jo used her 
own clothes to physically construct alliance. This lends credence to the polyvalency 
of clothing and the many levels on which it can be read. Recalling Harris's statement 
earlier on political anonymity, Jo's dress here seeks to overtly bridge political divides 
in a gesture of inclusion, even to the consternation of her fellow nationals. 

Divergent Association 

These ambivalences and nuances were clarified by another occasion. At Jo's re- 
quest, I was a guest at the sixtieth birthday party of her friend, Diana, one of the 
Yoruba women who had helped with the food at Jo's own birthday. This was an alto- 
gether bigger event, held in the larger hall of Millwall Football club, with more than 
300 people in attendance. For this celebration, Jo had the privilege of inviting her 
own selection of guests, which is how I got to attend a birthday party for a woman I 
did not know. Furthermore, as I was entertaining a visitor from Nigeria at the time, 
I asked Jo if I could bring my own guest along as well. Given that this guest knew 
neither Jo nor Diana, I had created a circuitous connection through which both 
Diana's and Jo's social reach could potentially be further extended. 

On the night, when my guest and I arrived, other guests were sparse and dis- 
tributed around the large hall. As Jo had not yet arrived, we seated ourselves at an 
empty table at the back, so as not to be too conspicuous. Shiny red helium balloons 
decorated the football club space, white tablecloths covered the tables, with glittery 
coloured sequins cut into '60' scattered across. When Jo arrived and saw us sitting 
at the back, she beckoned us forward to 'her table' — the place for the guests she had 
invited. The guests at her table were her responsibility to look after, providing extra 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 139 

food, extra seating and extra gifts. All of them had something to do with the market 
and Jo, as vendors, helpers, customers or were their friends and relations. 

When Jo first made her appearance, she was still busy with the preparations, and 
not quite fully dressed herself. Although wearing the red quilted and sequinned buba 
(blouse) and iro (wrapper) she would wear for the duration of the night, she was 
without any head dress. This was later corrected when she reappeared in a crisp red 
damask gele, one of the aso-ebi or 'like dressings' for the party. The head scarf or 
gele colour for Jo's allegiances was red. Gold and white gele marked two other aso- 
ebi for different guests and their sub-hosts. Most, but not all, of those sitting at the 
market table wore red gele; certainly those important fellow Yoruba women traders 
who work with her on the market did. As Jo had told me in advance that the colour of 
the aso-ebi was going to be red, I wore a red dress in my attempt to fit in. As I did not 
buy a gele from Jo, however, I could not be counted among those who were 'dressed 
alike'. The aso-ebi must all come from the same cloth and be bought from the host 
of the event. It is a dress practice heavily laden with financial and social investment, 
beyond the desire to wear the same things. Those women who work with Jo on the 
market demonstrate their social connection to her and their willingness to perpetu- 
ate this into the future through buying and wearing Jo's red gele. Their vestments 
embody that relationship to Jo, and at the same time, reveal their connections to each 
other as market women, as all these are 'dressed alike'. Byfield comments that 'a 
diverse group of women' can thus be rendered 'into visual equals' (Byfield 2004: 42) 
through like dressing practices. Those such as myself, who dressed themselves in 
the right colour acquired from the wrong source, lacked the social relevance to be 
counted as one among the group. In the case of aso-ebi, while association is one aim, 
there is equally an accent on differentiation from those not taking part. For me 
and those others at the market table not wearing red gele, this social exclusion was 
connoted materially and visually by our disconnected dress. The exclusivity of the 
aso-ebi does not end with the dress; as mentioned earlier it extends into other forms 
which materialize levels of social connection. 

One of these further materializations occurs in the practice of spraying. This is 
when the party's host gets covered in money, literally through the laying on of bills 
(often US dollars) onto her face and upper body by her close connections. At spon- 
taneous moments throughout the party, groups will gather around the celebrant and 
adorn her with single dollar bills, sticking them to her face, neck and upper body. 
Like the material clothing, spraying with money to create a cloth of currency is 
another way of demonstrating rank and connectivity for public view. In the words 
of one informant, it is 'supposed to be a sign of honour, honouring you'. The act 
of spraying is an honouring of the recipient by dressing her in the ultimate finery: 
money. It is also a further way to invest in another, through this symbolic and literal 
repayment. At Diana's party, it was not only Diana who received spray sessions from 
her close alliances, but also those other women, like Jo, who were already carrying 
much of the financial and social burdens for the party. When Diana did have her 

140 • Anthropology and the Individual 

spray session, no one from the market table took part in this, not even Jo, as she was 
already repaying Diana by helping to make the party bigger through the invitation of 
her own guests and catering for them. Rather, Jo was later treated to her own spray 
session. Before this occurrence, there was a bustle at the market table between the 
money changers working at the party 1 and those wanting to take part in the spraying, 
to exchange pounds for dollars. Like the red gele wearing, not all at the table did take 
part, but those who did were women from the market, and fellow traders at that (Fig- 
ure 9.2). Not a 'like dressing', but a performance nevertheless of social connectivity 
involving bodily adornment wherein individuals taking part stand to gain their own 
recognition by being included. 

The public placement of money upon the body of another does not just benefit 
the status of the recipient, but can also demonstrate the capacity of guests to be- 
stow material and social recognition onto others. The acquired status is possible 
only with the help of others. It is, in other words, a practice which is 'inherently 
social' (Barber 1995: 207). These transactions not only express relationships, but 
also become the precondition for being recognized as an individual, on the one hand 
by being able to take part, and on the other by being able to command a following 
willing to do so. 

Figure 9.2 Fellow market workers, adorned in red gele, assemble their dollars to engage in the 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 141 

Before the party's end, Jo in her turn acknowledged the social regard given by her 
market colleagues, through gifts given back to them. For those at the market table, 
there were two sets of gifts forthcoming: presents for Jo's guests who took part in 
the aso-ebi and the spraying, and smaller items for those who did not. Whereas the 
former received boxed china dinner sets, irons, and bathroom rug sets, the gifts for 
the latter were less significant: a bag of rice and a bottle of washing up liquid. The 
gifts returned were representative of the financial investments Jo's guests made to 
her. Those who made larger investments — economic and social — were given more 
durable objects than those who did not. The conspicuous exchanges between Jo and 
her market women at this birthday party demonstrate their connectedness to one an- 
other within the public realm of the Yoruba 'community' in London. At this birthday 
celebration, what can be seen are the rankings of individuals, enacted through a con- 
spicuous differentiation from the whole. This is achieved through separate grouping 
at tables, through selective participation in the 'like dress' practice, in the spraying 
of immediately significant alliances, and in the disparities between the gifts returned 
to invested friends and those more distant guests. 

Through material and monetary investment in these ceremonial activities, the 
hosts and her guests are recognized at once as members of a group, and as individual 
players within it able to make more significant gains than others through their own 
degree of outlay and involvement. Dress and bodily coverings, whether this be fab- 
ric of cloth or clothes of money, are significant markers in the status of individuals, 
showing that these are not rigidly static entities, but shifting and ephemeral produc- 
tions of identification, allegiance and status. Dress and its implication for individual- 
ity, recognition, identity and community cannot be viewed as separate from other 
materializations of social alliances objectified through food production, spraying 
practices, additional invited guests or improved international co-worker relations. 


It can be seen through the examples in this paper that by 'manipulating' (Hendrick- 
son 1996b: 2) sartorial presence, assertions of autonomy or stratifications of relation 
are actively constructed by individuals. Dress and bodily appearance objectify indi- 
vidual investments and contestations in ongoing social exchange networks between 
Jo and her fellow Yoruba market women and projected associations (and distinc- 
tions) between Jo and her English market co-workers. Jo uses dress to 'publish [her] 
presence' (Dogbe 2003: 391) in these two distinct 'communities', expressing both 
alliance and differentiation at the same time. Her failure to wear 'her own' clothes 
to her birthday party assured the party's success, as this latter was dependent on the 
contribution of others, which Jo's imposed 'acceptable' dress objectified. In wear- 
ing this fashion, she also conformed to cultural expectations about how she ought to 
present herself at such an event. During the World Cup football season, Jo's wearing 

142 • Anthropology and the Individual 

of red and white to express her support for things English and to gain support from 
her English colleagues risked the alienation of her fellow nationals and colleagues. 
This expression of English alliance, however, was tempered through the way she 
fashioned her dress, constructed through her own clothes and worn in an 'African' 
style. The public demonstration of alliances through 'like dress' practices and money 
spraying at the birthday party Jo supported simultaneously differentiated and ranked 
Jo's group of associates, where even amongst the invited, greater and lesser degrees 
of social connectivity were revealed materially. 

In these examples, clothing speaks a 'language capable of unifying, differenti- 
ating, challenging, contesting and dominating' (Allman 2004: 1). This takes place 
between distinct groups as well as between the individuals who constitute a given 
group. The clothing practices of just one individual demonstrates the nuanced and 
multivalent nature of not only dress and its meanings, but the social connections it 
objectifies. These practices also map in material form how an individual continually 
pivots between autonomy and allegiances. Through the use of bodily adornments, 
individuals both express themselves and make claims on others. Within this Yoruba 
community the only way that individual recognition can become manifest is through 
these systems of social significance. 

As noted earlier, there is plenty of work already published that focuses on dress in 
terms of politics and identity (Allman 2004; Dogbe 2003; Friedman 1994; Hendrick- 
son 1996a; Okpokunu et al. 2005; Rabine 1997, 1998; Ruether 2002); on both the 
issues of a Diaspora in a post-colonial context and the degree to which the selection 
of African fashion situates people and their identities in relation to that wider politics. 
This has not been the focus of the chapter presented here. Instead I have tried to show 
how the encounter with an individual as expressed in her dress and appearance is 
deeply embedded in much wider forms of social exchange and social connectivity that 
involves not just the matter of dress as appearance, but also the selection and construc- 
tion and performance that goes with appearance. I cannot argue that this particular case 
can stand for the whole experience of Yoruba women in London. In choosing to focus 
on an individual member of that group, however, insight into how such a group is 
constituted, maintained and contested can be seen, not as a collective force, but as the 
result of the actions and assertions of individuals such as Jo. Furthermore, these many 
negotiations and contestations involved ultimately lead to one person becoming more 
successful or less agile in securing a particular outcome. In this way dress doesn't just 
express a social collectivity and its rules of convention and expectation: as a practice 
it also secures the individualization and differentiation of the persons involved. 


This research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Coun- 
cil (AHRC). 

Fashioning Individuality and Social Connectivity among Yoruba Women • 143 


1. In addition to the support provided by Diana's women friends, several entrepre- 
neurs were also engaged in making the party a success. These included money 
changers, chair dealers and portrait photographers. Through the trade of their 
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Creating Order through Struggle 
in Revolutionary Cuba 

Anna Pertierra 

In carrying out fieldwork in urban Cuba, it is quite evident that this is a society in 
which the sorts of individuals Daniel Miller has described in his introduction simply 
do not exist: contemporary Cuban life precludes both the heterogeneity and the indi- 
vidualism of London. Indeed, the temptation in writing about individuals in socialist 
Cuba is to focus exclusively upon the restrictions that seem to exist upon individual- 
istic activities and aesthetics. Yet, as with the other chapters in this volume, the issue 
of the degree of individualism should not preclude another discussion that is just 
as important in Cuba as anywhere else. Although Cuba may not be individualistic, I 
was still studying individuals, and I am equally concerned to document how individ- 
uals can create their own narratives and make sense of their own experiences within 
a context of homogenous social structures and an ethos of communitarianism. 

There are ways of ordering the world within a highly normative society such as 
Cuba which still allow individuals to account for their varied life trajectories. One 
example of this is the ordering concept encapsulated by the term luchar, the Span- 
ish word for struggle. Within the context of Cuban socialism individuals tend not to 
understand their own life trajectories through valorizing individualism or choice as 
is common within the liberal tradition. Rather, the capacity for individuals to affect 
and direct their own lives is largely represented by Cubans through focussing on the 
philosophy and the practices subsumed by this work luchar. To briefly illustrate this 
argument, this chapter describes my encounters with two women in the city of San- 
tiago de Cuba whose lives, while very different, show the capacity of individuals to 
appropriate discourses of struggle usually associated with Cuban socialism to order 
their own experiences and practices to amount to what Miller has referred to in the 
introduction as an 'aesthetic'. 

The first clue for an outsider to understand the importance of struggle as a theme 
shaping life can be found in everyday conversations, which frequently draw from 
a set of recurring themes summarized in the very popular Cuban phrase 'It's not 
easy' (no es facil). The objective of these conversations is usually to demonstrate 
the features of each person's character that enable him or her to endure or overcome 


146 • Anthropology and the Individual 

difficulties in his or her life. Within such conversations, Cubans typically include 
stories of how their everyday tasks are complicated by the obstacles of poverty and 
scarcity. Such poverty and scarcity has been seen as definitive of life in the post- 
Soviet era, 1 and the burden of the resolving everyday economic and household prob- 
lems has fallen particularly heavily upon Cuban women, as they are traditionally 
responsible for the management of the domestic economy. 

I have developed a broader discussion of the history, politics and practices of a 
worldview in which luchar forms a central philosophy elsewhere (Pertierra 2006); 
here there is space sufficient only to note in passing two salient features. Firstly, it 
is clear that suffering is a central motif to the life narratives of Cuban women, and 
this emphasis upon suffering has a long and deeply gendered history across the Latin 
American region as seen, for example in discussions of female marianismo as an 
alternative code to male machismo (Melhuus and Stolen 1996, but for a complemen- 
tary analysis of male struggle see Lancaster 1994). The resonance of struggle as an 
ordering notion is not therefore restricted to women in Cuba. Secondly, despite the 
broader regional history of struggle (and evidence around the world of suffering and 
struggle as being frequently invoked as motifs of womanhood), in Cuba women's 
understanding of life as struggle has clearly been informed by the particular po- 
litical and economic events of the post-Soviet crisis. This dramatically reduced the 
capacity of many women to maintain the material standards of living to which they 
were accustomed, while increasing the polarization of wealth within communities. 
Elsewhere I explore how the everyday events that shape women's discussions of life 
as being a struggle point to an underlying preoccupation with material scarcity as 
the defining feature of contemporary Cuban society (Pertierra 2006). But here the 
focus is on how this concept is differentially appropriated by two individual women: 
Fernanda and Reina both understood their lives as a struggle, but used this seemingly 
shared notion of life as struggle to order very different life trajectories. To appreciate 
why this may be the case, it is important to understand some of the ways in which 
contemporary Cuba presents very different opportunities for the individual shaping 
of practices and philosophies, as contrasted with most other social contexts repre- 
sented within this volume, although normative pressure is also central to the chapters 
by Olesen, Murray and as contested in Botticello. 

Isolation and Monoculture in a 'Somewhat Big Society' 

In recent work Miller has argued that, by virtue of their exposure to diversity and 
globalization, the fast-moving populations of London have become 'very small so- 
cieties' (Miller 2006). In contrast, Cuba's political and social isolation since the 
decline of the Soviet coalition has made it a relatively 'big' society, in which approx- 
imately eleven million people experience a largely shared structure that underlies 
their everyday practices. The development of mass migration and the globalization 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 147 

of capitalist economies has radically increased the mobility of populations in both 
metropolitan centres like London and small populations on the margins of world 
economic development, like Jamaica; for people moving in, out and between such 
places, the intimate networks of personal relationships that anthropologists have tra- 
ditionally seen as definitive of a community are simply no longer bound by a shared 
geographical space (Appadurai 1996). In many cases such relationships are now 
maintained across geographical space through the use of media and communications 
technologies (Horst 2008; Morley 2000). 

However, the impact that globalization has had upon most Cubans has been very 
different. Since the Soviet networks of trade and development upon which Cuba's 
economy depended crumbled in the early 1990s, Cuban policymakers did make 
significant openings to the global economy, by inviting some foreign investment, 
legalizing the use of US dollars, and developing a tourist industry. However, such 
reforms remained heavily structured by the creation of state enterprises rather than 
a private sector. Although money began to flow into Cuba from industry, emigrant 
remittances and a flourishing black market, many aspects of everyday life for Cuban 
citizens remain organized through state institutions that limit the sorts of individual 
diversity that are frequently observed by anthropologists elsewhere in the contem- 
porary world. Cuba is one place that has not become more cosmopolitan through 
the impact of globalization. If anything, the structures that organize Cubans' lives 
have become more isolated from more common experiences of globalization found 
elsewhere in the Caribbean. Although emigration rates are high, unlike most other 
Caribbean nations, return visits from emigrants are rare, as bureaucratic processes 
and political difficulties for US-based migrants make travelling both in and out of 
Cuba complicated (US Department of State 2008). The development of tourism 
in Cuba can similarly be seen as something which, while bringing more foreigners 
into Cuba, purposely maintains a distance between visiting tourists and local popula- 
tions through policies that have often been described as 'tourist apartheid' (Roland 
2006). Thus, the policies the Cuban government has developed since the 1990s have 
been specifically calculated to maximize income from global economic develop- 
ments but minimize the direct interaction of individual Cubans with the global econ- 
omy in their daily lives (Eckstein 2003). 

There is evidence to suggest that before the revolution Cubans were affected by 
other, equally important normative systems, which may provide more continuity with 
how people order their lives in the socialist era than would be imagined or officially 
admitted. Speculatively, a broader history of normative systems in Cuba might con- 
sider such sources as the highly segregated categories of class and race articulated 
through nineteenth-century plantation economies and marriage laws, the influence 
of West African and consequently Afro-Cuban spiritual worldviews, and the politi- 
cal, gendered and theological teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (Kirk 1989; 
Martinez-Alier 1989; Palmie 2002). The historical development of spirituality, kin- 
ship and notions of gender, class and race clearly all contribute to the development 

148 • Anthropology and the Individual 

of Cuban conceptions of individualism and individuals. But the political economy 
of Cuba in the early twenty-first century, while not isolated from these factors, is an 
important framework which creates the conditions for luchar or struggle to be seen 
as definitive of the contemporary Cuban aesthetic. 

There are countless ways in which this formal structuring of Cuba's politics and 
economy impacts upon individuals in a consistent form. As I discuss below, key 
forms of consumption, including shopping for staple foods, rely upon a limited num- 
ber of stores that are all state-owned. Every student attends state schools, and every 
visit to a doctor or hospital is undertaken within a state-structured system. Many 
of the highlights of people's social calendars remain sponsored by government or- 
ganizations, such as annual Carnavales, street fairs and public concerts. In these 
and many other ways, people in Cuba really do share a common set of activities, 
institutions and cultural resources that create a common base of experience among 
residents in a manner that is usually more associated with small remote communities 
than with urbanized or nationalized populations. 

Although individuals in Cuba may interpret and negotiate their everyday experi- 
ences in an infinite number of ways, the activities that constitute the everyday in 
Cuba are limited in number and form. Even the most banal examples of domestic life 
can illustrate this point: in urban households, most commonly used goods depend 
upon processes of manufacturing and distribution that are beyond the control of an 
individual consumer (a feature of consumption by no means particular to socialist 
societies). Vegetable oil, sugar, soap and toothpaste are all mass-produced products 
Cubans regard as basic necessities that hold together the very practices of everyday 
life. Until the mid 1990s, the socialist economy delivered only one kind of each of 
these products, as manufacturing and distributed systems prioritized reaching the 
entire population over providing variety. When economic crisis in the early 1990s 
halted the regular production and delivery of consumer goods, the Cuban govern- 
ment introduced the use of US dollars in specific stores to purchase consumer goods 
at unsubsidized prices, but only in rare cases were multiple brands of the same good 
introduced. As I have discussed elsewhere, Cuban consumers developed a myriad 
of responses to overcoming such challenges to consumption. But the myriad of re- 
sponses still only result in a narrow number of material goods people can acquire. 
What is more, all Cuban consumers, even those with money available to buy un- 
subsidized goods, share common experiences of queues, shortages and visiting the 
same limited number of consumer spaces. It is through these common experiences of 
consumption that women most often evoke the importance of luchar as the definitive 
process of their everyday lives. 

Clearly, the contents of Cuban pantries are more homogenous than in Miller's 
London, and the practices through which consumers acquire their goods do not re- 
sult in as wide a gap between the most and least affluent residents, even with the 
partial opening of the economy since the 1990s. The involvement of the state in 
directly shaping most economic, leisure and labour activities creates a hegemony of 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 149 

everyday practices in Cuba to a degree that is impossible in most other industrial- 
ized mass populations. But in struggling for consumer goods, people do engage in 
a wide range of strategies to achieve their goals. They have individual problems 
and victories and strategies and relationships, although all of this diversity tends to 
be similarly explained as endless permutations of struggle. Although this does not 
make Cuban culture entirely homogenous, cultural diversities do spring from spe- 
cific sets of experiences that almost all Cubans share. In emphasizing the degree to 
which individuals' lives in contemporary Cuba exist under shared institutions that 
are mostly state-organized, I do not want to be misconstrued as arguing that Cuban 
life denies any capacity for individual agency. I by no means want to replicate a ste- 
reotypical neoliberal image of life in Communist societies that suggests there is no 
space for individual freedoms at all. At times this cliche about the homogeneity and 
anti-individualism of Communist societies is also perpetuated by people who them- 
selves live within socialist or post-socialist nations. In contrast, my own research 
experience in Cuba suggests that, as in capitalist societies, many people interpret and 
negotiate the institutions that organize their lives in varying (and often quite subver- 
sive) ways. Anthropologists across the socialist and post-socialist world have made 
similar observations (Berdahl 1999; Fehervary 2002; Humphrey 2002). But one of 
the particular characteristics of the concept of struggle which makes it so powerful 
in a communitarian society is that it offers individuals the possibility of struggling 
for themselves or their loved ones while also positioning themselves as part of a 
broader collective movement. Two brief case studies of women living in an urban 
neighbourhood of Santiago de Cuba can illustrate how ordering one's life through 
the concept of struggle makes space for individual trajectories while accepting a 
communitarian ethos. 

Two Women Who Have Struggled: Fernanda and Reina 

Fernanda and Reina are neighbours 2 who get along well, but the two women have 
had very different relationships to Cuban politics; accordingly, the state has very dif- 
ferent impacts upon not only the ideas or interests they hold, but also on the material 
conditions of their lives. Although both Fernanda and Reina come from backgrounds 
of significant poverty, Fernanda's household today is considerably better off econom- 
ically than Reina's, which is one of the poorer households in their neighbourhood. 
For decades, Fernanda has been very actively involved in community organizations 
and remains very committed to the Cuban Communist Party, while Reina has never 
had any interest or involvement in political or community organizations. To some 
degree, the generational difference between the two women might account for their 
differing political outlooks, as Fernanda, in her sixties, was raised in the era of high 
revolutionary fervour, while Reina, in her thirties, was more immediately faced with 
the challenges of caring for small children through the economic crisis of the 1990s. 

150 • Anthropology and the Individual 

But in reality, there are many other neighbours of Fernanda's age who are largely 
apathetic towards community and political activism, while a few people of Reina's 
generation continue an active involvement in state and community activism. 

Despite the considerable differences in Fernanda's and Reina's experiences and 
attitudes, their conversations as told to me over several months (whether as casual 
parts of our daily encounters or in a more formal interview setting) consistently 
centred upon the theme of women's need to overcome adversity through personal 
strength and ability to continue with the struggles of everyday life through being 
resourceful and inventive. It is this theme that I identify as luchar, and which is also 
materialized through the practices of economic management, housekeeping and con- 
sumption that make up the daily lives of most Cuban women. 


Fernanda's life story is the stuff of revolutionary folklore; from my first meeting with 
her soon after arriving in the Tivoli, I felt that her life narrative had been consciously 
shaped around the goals and gains of the revolution. Fernanda grew up with her poor 
white family in the rural Sierra Maestra mountains outside the city of Santiago — 
the same mountains which had sheltered the revolutionary guerrillas in the earliest 
years of her life — and she personally experienced the transformations that the early 
years of the revolution brought even to the most remote areas of Cuba. Fernanda's 
father supported his wife and four daughters on an unreliable agricultural worker's 
salary of a couple of pesos a day and had no sons to gain additional family income. 
Fernanda's village had no electricity, school or medical services; as the revolution 
established itself her own childhood changed, such that she could complete most 
of her primary schooling in her own village and then stayed in another village with 
relatives to complete sixth and seventh grades. Fernanda would proudly tell me that 
although she had only reached seventh grade in her education, that it was the seventh 
grade 'of those times', which counted for a lot more than it does today. Fernanda is 
certainly literate and highly numerate, and enthusiastically attended the Universidad 
de Adultos Mayores (University of Older Adults), a community college general edu- 
cation course held on Saturdays for local residents more than sixty years old. Thus, 
in her late sixties, Fernanda relished becoming a University graduate, and attended 
a formal graduation ceremony with her neighbours in August 2005 in the Provincial 

In addition to her own stories of the poverty of her childhood, Fernanda was 
always keen to emphasize the extreme isolation and rough conditions of rural life 
in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Fernanda's parents were both illiterate, the children of 
nineteenth-century immigrants from Spain. In her early twenties, Fernanda met her 
husband; also a white man of humble origins, but one who lived in the city of San- 
tiago de Cuba. Around twenty-five years ago Fernanda moved into his family home 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 151 

and together they built their own house above Fernanda's parents-in-law, which is 
where Fernanda now lives with her husband, two adult children and her teenage 

In conversing with Fernanda about a wide range of topics, she would frequently 
return to examples of how she has lived her life with a cheerful resilience and capac- 
ity for hard work. Fernanda is on the executive committee of her block's Committee 
for the Defence of the Revolution and also the Federation of Cuban Women, and 
is always writing documents or attending meetings or reporting to delegates from 
higher branches of official organizations. She is proud of the struggles that she has 
successfully waged to overcome poverty and consciously embraces the discourse 
of the revolution to describe her own activities and priorities in life. But Fernan- 
da's enterprise and energy is not only restricted to community work; she is equally 
committed to running her household and creating a comfortable, convenient and 
functional family home. Most of Fernanda's prized objects, such as the television, 
the two refrigerators and some of the furniture had been earned by her husband by 
gaining merit points in his workplace, or were recognitions of Fernanda's own com- 
munity work and revolutionary activity. The contents of Fernanda's living room 
effectively traces a biography of her family's involvement in labour and community 
activities under the auspices of the socialist revolution. Her interest in acquiring 
material comforts such as furniture and domestic appliances is not antithetical to 
her socialism, and in many ways it is precisely her qualities as an enthusiastic (and 
also enterprising) socialist that have enabled her family's capacity to exist relatively 
comfortably. Although her household is not enviably well-off, and they do not have 
any close relatives abroad, the family is never short of food and has always met 
their basic needs. Above the house, on the flat concrete roof, Fernanda raises pigs 
and chickens, slaughtering them periodically and selling some of the meat to neigh- 
bours, but also retaining substantial amounts for the family. She also makes juice 
or soft drinks, either from fresh fruit and sugar or from packets of powdered fla- 
vouring bought in dollar shops, and sells the drinks at a peso a glass to neighbours. 
Sometimes she sells cigarettes as well, unused from family rations, and occasionally 
coffee, which is similarly obtained. Although they do not have access to dollars, the 
vast majority of the family's costs are in Cuban pesos, of which they have a steady 
supply. Through industriousness and 'humility' Fernanda provides for her family 
with a sense of satisfaction. Partly due to the low expectations with which she was 
raised, partly in loyalty to the revolution, and partly from a genuine contentment 
with her life, Fernanda never expressed to me a dissatisfaction with her material 
conditions. Her positive attitude was a true testament to the revolutionary ideal of 
the humble worker's loyalty and generosity, and is, perhaps, a snapshot of a life and 
perspective which is fast fading (but which, importantly, was at one time dominant) 
in Cuban society. 

When I asked Fernanda what she wanted in life, and what she thinks is impor- 
tant in life, she emphasized particular qualities which had helped her to succeed and 

152 • Anthropology and the Individual 

which resonate very strongly with Cuban socialist imagery of the noble guajiro or 
rural poor: 

There are people in this world who don't have anything, but they are very dignified. You 
have to have dignity and also to fight (struggle) to make your life, even when things can 
be difficult. I am someone who has always cared about my family, my neighbours, and 
they also help me. In this neighbourhood the people all know one another and we help 
one another . . . But I am from the country originally and country people are very humble 
but very hardworking. 


Reina is a slim white woman; quite softly spoken but articulate. When I first met 
Reina, her household comprised herself (housewife), her eleven-year-old son (stu- 
dent), her common-law husband (unemployed), her father (pensioner) and her grand- 
mother (pensioner). In later months, Reina was working on a contract basis in a local 
government initiative, which improved her domestic economy but also increased 
her stress levels considerably as no-one was at home to care for her sick and de- 
mented grandmother. Reina has two other children; a teenage daughter, who lives 
with Reina's mother, and another son, who lives with the father's family — Reina is 
simply unable to support these two older children, although she assists in their main- 
tenance whenever possible. For example at the beginning of the school year Reina 
was very worried about finding a backpack for her daughter; it fell to her to pay for 
these larger items. 

Reina gave me many examples of strategies she had developed to find money to 
support herself and her family, and says she has never been afraid to work or to do 
whatever is necessary. When her first child was born, Reina was a teenager and had 
left high school, so she made cremita de leche (milk caramels) to sell to neighbours. 
In the early 1990s when the economic crisis hit Cuba, soaps and detergents suddenly 
disappeared, and in Santiago people resorted to using particular leaves from plants 
that grew in the countryside surrounding the city which, when mixed with water, had 
an antiseptic and stain-removing effect. However the water and the plants were un- 
pleasant to touch, many people had allergic reactions or rashes and the water would 
leave women's hands stained. Reina took in the laundry of better-off neighbours for 
a fee, and this formed her major access to income during the most difficult economic 
period of modern Cuban history. 

More recently, Reina has also sold some food products acquired by her boyfriend 
to neighbours (for example cooking oil, which is a major domestic expense). But 
when necessary Reina has also supplemented her income with sex work; as she ex- 
plained 'If I need to find money then I will dress up and go out on the streets to find 
it', or 'If I have to open my legs to feed my children, I do it without a problem.' She 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 153 

does not have a clientele, nor does she identify as a prostitute, but rather, will accept 
opportunities to earn money through using her body sexually if they arise, and cat- 
egorizes this as simply a marginally less publicly acceptable way of using her body 
than washing laundry or making sweets. In 2003, Reina met an Italian tourist who 
spent several weeks in Santiago over two visits. They developed a relationship and 
Reina was his girlfriend for the duration of his stays; in addition to enjoying the ac- 
tivities they could share such as eating in restaurants and visiting tourist sites, Reina 
acquired several sets of clothing and shoes bought in dollar shops in Cuba, certain 
items for her children and cash as a result of this relationship. Reina is very careful 
in caring for the clothes dating from this time, as they are her only 'good' clothes 
which she uses both for going out and for working in her local government job. At 
the time of the visits by this Italian tourist, Reina had not yet met her current partner, 
and whilst she said to me that she hopes the Italian returns to Santiago soon, because 
she needed the material help he can give her, she also indicated that as she is in a 
relationship now she cannot or does not have sex with people other than her partner, 
not even for money. She once told me that 'a woman really has to be in love' to put 
up with having a husband, because he is a lot of extra work and stops you from being 
able to have other opportunities — at first I had thought she was joking but in fact she 
made the statement without any intended irony. 

Reina's conversations with me emphasized how excluded she has always been 
from material comfort and how hard she has to struggle to acquire even the money 
and goods she sees as basic necessities: 

The boy's shoes cost me 300 pesos. You don't know how many things I had to do for 
those 300 pesos. Listen, I went out night after night to be able to find the shoes for my 
son. Because where will it come from if I'm already working? And I resolved it. . .This 
problem of the backpack, that has my blood pressure high, I've had headaches, from 
the pressure and the tension I have. Where to acquire the backpack. With the number 
of books she takes in the morning. All the kids with their backpacks, except mine. And 
so, what happens, I've got two pairs of trousers. I thought of selling one to solve this 
problem, but in any case, I'm not going to do anything. Honestly, I'm not going to do 
anything. Getting rid of something I can use for work, and anyway when I get paid, we'll 
see what we can resolve, what we'll do. I don't know ... I live from the invention. 

What do I want to achieve in life? What I'd like to have in life is health. Because with 
health, everything else can be achieved. Which is what I don't have ... for my children to 
have health. And to have a house where I can have all three of them. That, yes, I wish for. 
Because the girl and boy are separated from me, and it hurts me not to have them with 
me because of the conditions I have . . . They're three totally different characters. I would 
really like — if God or Nature allows it, I don't know — to have them in my house. Which 
I can't have. Them with their space; each one with their own room so that each lives in 
their own space . . . Because my parents have given me nothing, and you see how we live? 
To have my own house, I have to wait for my grandmother to pass away, and then for my 

154 • Anthropology and the Individual 

father to pass away, to then therefore be able to have my own house. And this is why it's 
gotten lodged in my head to fight (luchar), but hard! To buy myself even a little house. 
But for problems of sickness, it can't be. Because you can't exchange money for health. 
It's not easy, you know? 

Fernanda and Reina, while having quite opposite experiences of life success, both 
invoke the rhetoric of luchar; Fernanda defines her ability to succeed in life through 
the need to struggle, while Reina complains that she needs to struggle as a result of 
her poverty. We can see how Fernanda sees herself as having engaged in lifelong 
struggle as part of the broader revolutionary movement to improve herself, her fam- 
ily and her community. In contrast, Reina spoke of political institutions only insofar 
as they let her down, such as when government rations and benefits are insufficient. 
But in both cases, images of sacrifice and struggle that are often part of the Cuban 
state rhetoric are closely connected to the very personal experiences of individuals 
like Fernanda and Reina when they think about their lives, their desires and their 
conceptions of self. 

As the concept of luchar is so closely associated with the language and policies 
of the Cuban state, it can be invoked by people who are apathetic or even hostile 
towards socialism in general, without inviting critique. Indeed, for many people talk- 
ing about life as a struggle in the post-Soviet era involves a heavy dose of irony, as 
the language of revolution is subverted to describe the struggles of individuals to 
overcome the conditions they feel are largely a result of negligent or hostile govern- 
mental policies. However, even in Cuba there is no simple division between people 
who are 'for' the revolution and understand luchar as a revolutionary concept and 
people who are 'against' the revolution and use luchar as an entirely ironic or sub- 
versive critique. On the one hand, people can embrace a communitarian emphasis 
of Cuban socialism in ways that further their individual interests. And on the other 
hand, people can feel generally marginalized by the institutions that are so constitu- 
tive of Cuban life while still employing the ideals and rhetoric of those institutions to 
express their very marginalization. 

The Cuban example suggests that while individuals may not be encouraged to 
adopt an explicit philosophy of individualism in socialist societies, they are very 
capable of incorporating revolutionary narratives and discourse to make sense of 
their individual personal trajectories. Even a largely anti-individualistic ideology 
can inspire citizens in conceptions of themselves that emphasize a strong capacity 
for agency. Brian Morris makes a similar argument in considering the dialectical 
relationship between the social and the individual across many world cultures when 
he points out that 'a sociocentric conception of the person in no way excludes an 
equal emphasis on the idiosyncratic self or on the individuality of the human subject' 
(1994: 193). Even within the most community-oriented of societies individuals are 
perfectly autonomous beings who do not particularly sacrifice their own interests or 
needs on behalf of their group (Morris 1994). 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 155 

There is a tendency in research on socialist societies to focus on the defining 
features of life under a Communist or socialist regime that can be found in oppres- 
sion of individuals through policies that limit rights to free speech, travel, economic 
activities or other well-documented activities that are generally associated with life 
in the public or civic sphere. Anthropologists, while preferring to examine the grass 
roots effects of socialist regimes in diverse communities, have been as likely as any 
other set of researchers to examine the nature of social life in socialist societies as 
being largely shaped by the institutions and policies of the socialist state. However, a 
lack of emphasis on individualism as a philosophy does not mean that the individual 
as a category is unimportant. Clearly, although revolutionary ideology emphasizes 
community over the individual, Cubans at a ground level do actually use these same 
revolutionary ideologies and discourses (such as luchar) as a metaphor or model 
for their own individual lives and experiences. While being enthusiastic about the 
Cuban state (as Fernanda generally is) may allow for the conscious embracing of the 
rhetoric of revolutionary struggle, people like Reina who are entirely apathetic about 
state ideology are just as likely to espouse the importance of communitarian spirit, or 
emphasize the need to make sacrifices for the family. The Cuban revolution, both as 
the symbol of a set of values, and as a series of institutions that regulate the practical 
conditions of citizens' lives, is extremely intertwined with how Cuban individuals 
understand their own life trajectories and life philosophies. Further, as is shown with 
the example of Reina, many individuals may invoke discourses and images associ- 
ated with socialism that are neither supporting or opposing ideological positions 
such as communitarian socialism or individualist capitalism, but are serving entirely 
less polarized purposes. As anthropologist Alexei Yurchak has argued with refer- 
ence to the late years of the Soviet Union, when trying to understand the diversity of 
individual responses to authoritarian state ideologies, it is problematic to assume a 
simple binary between believing in or opposing state practices (Yurchak 2005). Yur- 
chak's work demonstrates why associating agency with a resistance to social norms 
is an error, as individuals can often exert agency by being entirely in keeping with 
social norms, which is clear in the case of Fernanda. 

While people continue to forge their own divergent, sometimes contesting or 
conflicting, paths in life within societies that emphasize the well-being of a com- 
munity over the preferences of an individual, the communitarian emphasis of such 
societies does seem to create a different starting point for people's understanding 
of self. Claudio Lomnitz-Adler's discussion of communitarian ideologies, which 
draws from Weiner's discussions of exchange, speaks directly to the relationship 
between state ideologies and ideas of individualism as expressed through individual 
and group practices: 

The totalizing visions that underlie communitarian relationships are always based on 
definitions of goods or rights that are common and inalienable to all. The relationships 
of differentiation that are later constructed within and between communities are defined 

156 • Anthropology and the Individual 

with reference to the series of goods that are inalienable to the group. (Lomnitz-Adler 
2001: 36) 

The assumption of particular rights and goods as 'common and inalienable to all' 
is indeed central to Cuban invocations of luchar; when people describe themselves 
as struggling to achieve a better life, the understanding is that they are working to 
maintain a quality of life to which they have an incontrovertible right. Such rights as 
education and health care are obvious examples of how Cuban socialist society has 
been defined with reference to particular goods and services being inalienable. But 
the examples of inalienable rights Fernanda and Reina focus on are somewhat less 
tangible; both women take for granted their right to raise children in a healthy and 
comfortable environment, and their right to actively seek economic improvement on 
behalf of their families. Given the poverty-stricken backgrounds of both Fernanda 
and Reina, it is relevant to note that for the most vulnerable Cubans the very com- 
munitarian ethos of the revolution has often enabled them to emphasize their agency 
and individual worth more effectively, with a reduced (but never erased) dependence 
upon family or class-based networks. Yunxiang Yan's excellent study of private life 
in rural China makes a similar point; young men and women in China have increas- 
ingly been able to reject longstanding norms of filial piety to create lives that are 
largely independent from parental and grandparental obligation (Yan 2003). An ap- 
parently authoritarian state, in a society deeply committed to mutual support, has 
nevertheless offered new opportunities for individualism. 

What the divergent uses of luchar have in common is that they make reference 
to a shared Cuban conception of a 'good life', which includes not only educational 
or health services but also a range of important material goods which are seen as 
intrinsic to emotional well-being. Individuals are understood to struggle to attain 
or maintain a 'good life', and this is not seen as antithetical to the communitar- 
ian emphasis of Cuban socialism. On the contrary, this very struggle for intellec- 
tual, emotional and material upliftment lies symbolically (if not always in practice) 
at the heart of Cuban state ideology. Such an ideology is clearly very different from 
the Protestant-inspired ideology of individualism famously identified by Weber. Yet 
the Cuban use of luchar to order one's life and make sense of one's fate can be 
seen to fulfil a comparable role in providing individuals with a capacity for affect- 
ing their own destiny. Women like Fernanda and Reina use their understanding 
of luchar to explain how their particular actions in particular circumstances have 
led them to become who they are, as opposed to someone or something different. 
Struggle in this context is an expression of agency to become one kind of person or 
claim some particular virtue. The relative inability to become a 'pure' individual in 
contemporary Cuba in no way curtails the capacity for individual Cubans to engage 
in ordering their sense of self; on the contrary, these very communitarian ideologies 
and discourses provide fertile ground for individuals to order and understand their 
life trajectories. 

Creating Order through Struggle in Revolutionary Cuba • 157 


1. The term 'post-Soviet' has become increasing used by anthropologists to de- 
scribe the period of Cuban society from approximately 1991 until today. 

2. These case studies were part of a broader ethnography conducted with women 
living in the city of Santiago de Cuba in southeastern Cuba. I conducted thirteen 
months of participant observation in 2003/2004, with follow-up visits in 2006 
and 2008. 


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Food, Family, Art and God: Aesthetic 
Authority in Public Life in Trinidad 

Gabrielle Hosein 

This is a departure from understanding Caribbean societies and cultures in terms of their 
institutions ... It searches for other essences beside ethnicity, national identity, pluralism, 
classes, gender, cultural resistance etc. and instead delves into internal dynamics, cultural 
creativity, aesthetic, emotions, experiences and the different ways these expose particu- 
larities, personalities and unique ways of creating and understanding order. (Johnson 
2002: 21) 

In the small city of San Fernando in Trinidad, 1 market vendors' needs and illegal 
squatters' aspirations illuminate the significance of relationships and practices that 
most matter to ordinary women and men. Equally, Muslim women's piety and Car- 
nival mas makers' artistry provide sources for understanding how people order their 
lives and judge each other. Together, these also explain the workings of macro struc- 
tures such as bureaucracies and the law, and macro-practices such as national elec- 
tions and state patronage. As women and men privately and individually make sense 
of their experiences, beliefs, desires and identities, they deeply define politics in 
public life. 

Ethnographic research, in the Central Market, 2 on the Railway Line section of 
the King's Wharf, 3 in an Anjuman Sunnat Ul Jamaat Association (ASJA) Masjid 
(mosque), 4 and at the Lionel Jagessar and Associates Mas Camp, 5 enabled me to ex- 
plore the kinds of authority women and men mobilized as they participated in public 
life (Navaro-Yashin 2002: 2). As I waited for taxis, bought vegetables, listened to 
business transactions, attended women's meetings or just sat with fishermen at the 
waterfront in San Fernando, the surprising ways ordinary people governed norma- 
tive order stood out. As a case study, the city provided a setting for interrogating how 
dispositions, circulating within individuals' lives, define informal, formal and even 
state-centred kinds of power and meaning. 

As Merlene, Sandy, Ruqaya and Lionel's stories below show, order-making prac- 
tices rest on what most matters to women and men, and their capacity to legitimize 
aesthetic authority. Through the examples that follow, I define what I mean by 'aes- 
thetic' in this chapter. I also show how an aesthetic is lived and becomes the basis 


160 • Anthropology and the Individual 

for authority. Finally, I illustrate how conceptualizations of individual aesthetic can 
be expanded to the study of public life, and can show the macro significance of indi- 
vidual order-making practices. 

Theorizing Aesthetic Authority 

Let me first review a set of premises, regarding individuals, aesthetic and authority, 
engaged by this collection of essays. Authority, for Miller, is grounded in forging, 
maintaining and conducting relationships. It emerges from the ways that women and 
men, amidst great social heterogeneity, 6 make 'highly integrated meaningful worlds, 
carefully crafted lives, with considerable consistency or clearly worked through con- 
tradictions' (2006: 3). People's relationships may be to their bodies, others, things, 
practices and ideals. These shape and are shaped by what matters to them, and the 
narratives they reproduce to make sense of their past and present. 

Following Bourdieu (1977), Miller argues that early parental influences, later 
relationships and the wider cultural order build on each other. They create meanings 
that people work out daily. Past and present influences may be widely divergent 
and completely contradictory. Women and men, therefore, choose to sometimes 
emphasize some influences more than others. The sense that they seek to make 
through their practices and relationships creates an overall, totalizing order in their 
lives. Miller calls this 'cosmological architecture' (2006: 23), an 'aesthetic'. This 
aesthetic is, in essence, a habitus. It expresses ideals of order and balance, and the 
centrality of practice. But while habitus derives from the normative social order, 
Miller is concerned with the order individuals or households partly create for them- 
selves within a modern de-centred and relatively apolitical space, such as within the 
private home. 

As Miller writes, 'At any given point of time the aesthetic is distributed through 
a series of relationships to different material genres or aspects of one's life' (2006: 
15). In the context of this chapter, the norms and meanings created through family, 
village and agricultural life may influence market vendors' relationships to money, 
police and public space while current economic demands and difficulties, religious 
conversion or change in legislation may shift these relationships or reproduce them 
in new ways. I argue that influences such as these are the basis for vendors', squat- 
ters', Muslim women's and mas makers' aesthetic authority. 

In this chapter, I take ideas that Miller claims to have located in the private sphere 
and cast them back into the public domain, the effect of which is to highlight their 
role in adjudicating authority. The two contexts are themselves connected. Unrelated 
vendors can behave like family members. Community Environmental Protection and 
Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) workers who, in their heads, constantly add to 
and shuffle the list of party activists they can turn to for help behave much like a man 
constantly re-organizing his email as he affirms his place in his world or a woman 

Food, Family, Art and God • 161 

who collects and moves around her furniture to feel she has some means of control- 
ling her life. 

Desire for and practice of relationship marks those experiences, values, people 
and things that are considered inalienable. This is because, notwithstanding their re- 
lations to wider social norms up to and including the state, much of women and men's 
emotional and personal concerns are centred on a few primary relationships with 
things, familiar places, people they love and even God. This is what Yael Navaro- 
Yashin (2002) and Lisa Douglass (1992) refer to when they discuss affect or emo- 
tions and sentiments as 'forms of both power and meaning' (Douglass 1992: 3). 7 

In the connection between these close relationships and the wider public sphere, 
women and men's decisions about what really matters to them, and what they feel 
makes sense highlight the ideals and practices that order their lives. Together, their 
practices create and express an aesthetic that they use to legitimate what they do in 
the present and to mediate different forms of power and meaning. This is what I call 
aesthetic authority. 

What Matters? 

Aesthetic authority is, therefore, the basis for the legitimacy that Trinidadians feel 
when they make decisions regarding their own lives and their relationships with oth- 
ers, things, spaces, institutions and practices. It is based on the importance that they 
give to what most matters to them and their feeling that, based on what matters, they 
have an authority that does not need the legitimacy of legislation, rules, office or 
other formal bases of power. It is an authority based on what feels right and reason- 
able, and what provides a sense of balance and order. In this sense, an aesthetic is 
normative, shaping how public space and public life are privatized and poeticized. 8 
It shows individuals as far from simply lawless, indisciplined, disorderly or immoral. 

Fittingly, I first show how Merlene's aesthetic, as a market vendor, makes illegality 
legitimate. Her aesthetic expresses the idea that everyone should be able to make 'an 
honest dollar' so that they can feed their families. It competes for moral authority with 
state legislation and business people's ideals regarding use of public space. On the 
Railway Line, a similar desire to participate in banal aspects of nationalism (Billing 
1995) legitimizes the fact that, in this instance, not everyone will get employment or be 
able to access money or food. Sandy uses her connections to make sense of, order and 
fulfil her own aspirations for family life. Her aesthetic competes with bureaucratic ide- 
als, and election platform promises regarding state spending and welfare provision. 

At the nearby mosque, Ruqaya's aesthetic expresses an ideal that worldly prac- 
tices should be guided by spiritual correctness. Her cosmology guides how she makes 
sense of and advocates for gender justice, as she believes God would have wanted it, 
among women and men. It gives her authority to challenge male leadership's deci- 
sions and definitions of democracy in the politics of her mosque, on the basis of what 

162 • Anthropology and the Individual 

seems right and reasonable. Elsewhere in San Fernando, Lionel's aesthetic idealizes 
identification with the materials, characters and artistic skills associated with making 
(North American) Indian Carnival costumes. It enables him to challenge bureaucratic 
officials' views regarding participation, and patronage obligations, on the basis of his 
family's needs and aspirations, and his own notions of spiritually correct leadership. 
The following stories highlight areas of authority and governance that are in practice 
only made legitimate and effective when they align with a normativity derived from 
women's and men's experiences and ideals regarding family, spirituality, livelihood, 
community, culture and leadership. We need to pay much more attention to this un- 
derlying aesthetic authority which connects daily life to the institutions which claim 
dominance and power. 


Usually, in the afternoons before the market closed, I went to visit Merlene. Often, 
she had already cleared her stall in the market, and carried her peppers and seasonings 
out to the street where they were displayed on boxes or crocus bags for passers-by to 
see. A no-nonsense, Indo-Trinidadian grandmother, she would be sitting behind her 
goods and calling out her prices to potential customers while keeping a stern eye on 
the street's activities. Merlene would also make space for other vendors when they 
arrived, share scales and small change, and even help sell friends' goods. 

The ideal that 'everybody have to eat' or has a right to secure a livelihood un- 
derscored her decisions regarding conflict, competition and cooperation with other 
vendors, and the ways she negotiated with police and government policy regarding 
sidewalk vending. Merlene was proud of the strong reciprocal relations that char- 
acterize market life because 'all ah we come here to get some food to carry home'. 
This ideal shaped relationships between spouses, as well as those between extended 
family and between neighbhours in her village, neighbours at the market or on the 
road, and even with police. Business was not simply about being competitive, but 
about balancing 'making a dollar' with not taking away someone else's. While small 
quarrels sometimes arose on the road as they hustled to make a brisk trade, vendors 
were also quick to point out that 'the road is for everybody'. 

As Figure 11.1 shows, police ritually arrived on the road each afternoon. When 
they began to tell vendors to move, Merlene would pack up her goods, or pretend 
to, or even hustle a quick last sale while the police walked up and down ensuring 
vendors' compliance. She would throw a 'cut eye' (a bad look) at unfriendly or rough 
police and chat with those she considered 'genuine' while moving to the pavement to 
wait for the police to leave so she could begin to sell again. For her, it was fair to sell 
on the road, despite its illegality, because she needed to sell any remaining perish- 
able goods and make enough profit to pay her debts to wholesalers. More important, 
she felt that making an honest living to support her family was more important than 

Food, Family, Art and God • 163 

Figure 11.1 The line of legitimacy. 

supporting the law. Yet, not only could she not openly defy police, Merlene also felt 
that vendors needed to respect that police were doing their job and their duty. She 
would therefore also throw 'cut eye' to vendors who gave police too much trouble. 

While some police would 'advantage' vendors (treat them unreasonably) by talk- 
ing to them 'like hogs', vendors felt police often gave them a chance because they 
knew them from years of selling on the road or knew they were trying to earn an 
honest livelihood. Also, police may have had family selling on the road, known sales 
were hard that day or planned to sell in the market after retiring. As a law-abiding 
matriarch, Merlene expected police to understand her decision to sell on the road 
because she understood their job was to move her from selling there. She saw police 
as vendors — as women and men just doing the job they have to. Conversely, she 
expected police to see her like themselves — as if there were reasonable grounds for 
what she was doing, as long as she didn't attempt to 'advantage' them, the law and 
public space. 

In addition to legal regulations, police and local politicians highlighted 'moral' 
concerns related to hygiene, safety and security as reasons to discontinue street vend- 
ing. Their empathy was limited by their perception that the 'market is real profit' 
and vendors were not simply 'making a dollar'. Business people also argued that 
vendors didn't pay taxes and blocked their storefronts. In the eyes of these authori- 
ties, vendors should not be on the road. Yet, to some extent, police empathized with 
vendors' attempts to earn a livelihood and they recognized the demand for roadside 
sales. Illegality was considered reasonable and legitimate by vendors and state of- 
ficials to different degrees. 9 

Merlene's aesthetic, her sense of the proper moral order of the world, deter- 
mined whether the use of power was legitimate or not. It was based on her family's 
needs, her livelihood options, her long-held aspirations for economic independence, 
the practices of her village neighbours and values she learned growing up in an 

164 • Anthropology and the Individual 

agricultural family. Yet, shared aesthetic explains why vendors were able to negotiate 
with police, why they were patronized by other citizens, and why even politicians 
were aware of depriving them of their 'dollar'. In this sense, this aesthetic enabled 
vendors, politicians and police to mutually legitimize a variety of kinds of power. 

On the roadside, the spectrum of forms of power at play included hustling, leg- 
islation, pretence, bribes, 'sweet talk' and friendship. This public politics reflected 
individual normative practices that continually intersected formal and state-centred 
bases for social order. It showed the significance of Merlene's aesthetic, that the law 
should be lived in ways that enabled her to make 'an honest dollar', and the legiti- 
macy that aesthetic offered to illegality in public life. 


When I first met Sandy, she was living with her common-law partner Boscoe. They 
had informally adopted Brendon, their neighbour's baby. Sandy and Boscoe didn't 
feel they could have children together, and their neighbour's drug addiction was af- 
fecting her son's health. Brendon didn't only alter Sandy and Boscoe's relationship 
but created a new experience of parenting. This young couple wanted to 'build up' 
their one-room house on the Railway Line and get regular income because they now 
had a 'son'. 

They were able to survive before on temporary employment and hustling some 
fish from friends on the Wharf. Boscoe often got jobs with the Unemployment Relief 
Programme (URP) because his uncle worked there. Sandy was able to access relief 
employment less regularly, but sometimes worked informally with Community En- 
vironmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) when her aunt or 
sister, who were employed with the programme, fell ill. However, with Brendon 
in their care, CEPEP, URP and the contacts they had with these programmes now 
became crucial. The couple's relations with neighbours, and Sandy's sister, mother 
and aunt on the Railway Line, were also deepened as everyone often helped to feed 
or look after Brendon. He became infused with their connection to extended family 
and neighbours, fishermen on the Wharf, political activists, elections and state pro- 
grammes providing work and welfare. 

Sandy's aspirations for family life meant that, even more than before, she had to 
turn to her 'contacts', those women and men she knew who could advise and help 
because of their status, knowledge or networks. Sandy's own efforts to make sense of 
her realities and hopes showed a desire to access those aspects of saving, consump- 
tion and helping others that many take for granted, and to create a more permanent 
home on the Railway Line, though its illegality would mean that she couldn't access 
pipe-borne water or electricity. She imagined herself as a part of everyday normative 
life, including the exemplary red beans, macaroni pie, chicken, iced drinks and radio 
music (here playing from a recharged car battery) typical of Trinidadian 'Sunday 

Food, Family, Art and God • 165 

lunch', though unusual for this neighbourhood of low-income families. For Rail- 
way Line residents like Sandy (Figure 11.2), it was precisely concerns grounded in 
family life that were the basis for the exchange of votes and jobs so central to patron- 
age. Democracy, coupled with patronage, secured the chance of feeling Trinidadian, 
a part of wider publics of parents with children in government schools or families 
that could afford groceries at the supermarket. 

As Sandy sorted through the people who could help her access family, income, 
food and welfare, she created a sense of order that affirmed a world order in which 
not everyone gets to eat. Her aspirations made her participation as a voter in national 
elections significant, not just in terms of politics, but also in relation to ideas of 
family, community and work. It also legitimized her expectations for the kinds of 
reciprocity that accompany patronage obligations. Despite party activists' and politi- 
cians' exhortations that CEPEP and URP were administered without political bias, 
here too shared aesthetic explained partisan allocation of scarce resources. 

When I last visited Sandy, she and Brendon were by her mother who was talking 
about getting him to participate in Kiddie's Carnival just as her other grandchildren 
did, often in costumes paid for with CEPEP and URP wages. Boscoe and Sandy had 
broken up and so their different degrees of engagement with family, neighbours, 
politics and the state had shifted once again. Amidst these new circumstances, Sandy 

Figure 11.2 One woman, one vote. 

166 • Anthropology and the Individual 

was trying to make ends meet and still dreamed of expanding her single room over- 
looking the sea. 

Forming and mobilizing many contacts who were willing to help was an aesthetic 
that enabled Sandy to participate in aspects of Trinidadian family life, to use her 
vote as a form and meaning of power, to successfully make claims on political party 
activists' patronage obligations, and to make sense of the reality that not everyone 
gets food or money to take home. For Sandy, like so many others, political participa- 
tion was not necessarily different from the ways she created a sense of order out of 
her aspirations, family experiences, economic opportunities, intimate relationships 
and neighbourhood friendships. The overall configuration of values and relation- 
ships came through fortuitous connections and, with Sandy, was the by-product of 
her continuing willingness to single-handedly adopt and love Brendon. 


One October morning, Ruqaya, a motherly looking woman wearing a hijab, met 
me and drove us to the site of the ASJA election, an Islamic girls' school. I had seen 
her petition against women's disenfranchisement circulating the San Fernando Jama 
Masjid (Figure 11.3). A short paragraph, at the top of the page of the petition, had 
asserted that the ASJA constitution did not bar women from voting and sought sig- 
natures of support below. I could not have gone alone to the election. Comfortably, 
neither could she. When we arrived, there were about 150, mainly Indo-Trinidadian, 
men milling around. Many wore kurta shirts and headwear. Fewer wore Western 
clothes. This signalled that this event was both an administrative and sacred space 
and exercise. 

We sat in chairs closest to the door. The Chairman of the Electoral Committee 
soon came to tell us to leave. Ruqaya said there was nothing in the constitution to 

Figure 11.3 Higher authority. 

Food, Family, Art and God • 167 

make her leave. He said it was 'custom'. She asked, 'Am I doing anything wrong? 
Am I offending anybody?' He asked where she was from. She told him she was from 
the San Fernando Jaamat (community) and that she paid her $10 to the women's 
group. He responded that they didn't recognize those payments. She quietly reas- 
sured me that they could not (physically) move us. He seemed to give in. She said, 
'Well, I am glad you understand.' Vexed, he responded that he did not understand our 
point and didn't support us being there. 

He went away and sent a hesitant young security guard to tell us to leave. She 
again said to tell her why and who said so and that she wasn't leaving. Grumbling 
about 'all these men who want to decide my life', she explained to me, 'I am here 
because if my God asked me what I did when the ASJA was in this state, what can I 
say, I was home cooking?' She said she asked three other women to come but they 
were afraid of censure, afraid of the President General and 'afraid of the men'. Con- 
stitutional rules did not prevent women from attending, but the habitual practice and 
pressure women felt did. 

The event began with a dua (prayer), but the atmosphere was tense. The elec- 
tion officials stood next to us looking displeased. At one point, the President said, 
'Sisters were not allowed and I don't know who invited them, but they are here.' 
He didn't publicly tell us to leave. Ruqaya declared, T guess the President accepts 
us' and was pleased that his opening address began 'Brothers and Sisters'. Later, on 
the podium to announce the election, the man who first tried to make us leave also 
addressed the assembly as 'My beloved Sisters and Brothers'. Ruqaya noted this 

After the election, men we knew from various masjids came up to joke about our 
temerity and how 'they wanted to throw all yuh out'. Many were supportive of us 
staying. The community is small so women and men generally know each other well. 
Women didn't fear individual men's responses and, in fact, would have been sur- 
rounded by male neighbours, family, co-workers and friends. The election moment 
highlighted more generalized, gendered fears of social shame, community leaders' 
censure and gossip amongst men. In this instance, Ruqaya invoked the ASJA consti- 
tution to challenge norms regarding gender segregation. She also invoked the higher 
authority of God, over the traditional authority of religious and administrative lead- 
ers, to justify women's participation in Islamic public life. 

Ruqaya's aesthetic, idealizing a relationship between gender, democracy, leader- 
ship and community as God intended, was her personal version of issues that were 
shared by other members of the Masjid. So not everyone would have reached exactly 
the same conclusions as to what was reasonable. While some women and men felt 
that women did not need to participate in 'men's activities' such as the election, 
others thought that women's family roles provided decision-making knowledge and 
power they could bring to community governance. Some advocated complete equal- 
ity in ASJA governance and democracy and others desired simply more recognition 
for the women's group and the right to vote for all levels of leadership. 

168 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Ruqaya's personal sense of meaning and power, however, came not only from 
the mosque and her readings from the Koran and the life of the Prophet Mohammed, 
but also from her family experiences, occupation, political participation in national 
government, educational attainment and conceptions of fairness. She agreed that the 
leader of the community and Jamaat should be male. Yet, she felt that, when men 
were not behaving according to the Sunnah 10 or the ASJA constitution, when a kut- 
bah (sermon) was chauvinistic or when women were reduced to their domesticity, in 
their role as moral guardians, women had a right to discipline the men. Her challenge 
was based on a sense of authority, grounded in her relationship to God, regarding the 
beauty and justice of 'correct' Islamic order and gender balance. 


Tagging along with Lionel as he went to a San Fernando Carnival Committee meet- 
ing one evening, I listened as bandleaders complained about prizes, parade routes 
and lack of respect while politicians and bureaucrats cajoled them to cooperate, 
to support the Committee's framing of Carnival as a 'product', and to be 'patriotic' to 
San Fernando. We had walked over from the Jagessars' mas camp where, for close to 
thirty years, Carnival costumes were made almost year-round by friends and family. 
Bandleaders Lionel and Rose produced 'Indian mas' costumes that stylized North 
American Native 'Indian' nations' dress, leadership, ancestry and cosmology. Their 
artistry continually re-imagined and revitalized a connection to a Native American 
identity and spirituality within Trinidad's Carnival. 

The camp relied on friends' and family members' freely given time and skill 
to make costumes for the band. In exchange, they got food, and free or cheaper 
costumes. While the most skilled might be waged, the majority supported the band 
through late nights and long days of work because of a loyalty to Rose and Lionel, 
Carnival and mas, Indian mas, San Fernando and Trinidad. For the Jagessars, the 
band was a labour of love, or a medley of practice and emotion, that affirmed their 
authority and autonomy while providing an income. 

Like bandleaders, the San Fernando Carnival Committee made yearly attempts to 
harness, define and direct this love. Aiming to appropriate ultimate leadership of the 
event, this local government branch flexed its own legal power in contested meet- 
ings about the management, development and purpose of Carnival. While debate and 
disagreement pivoted on routes, prizes and rules, it was really about the relationship 
between ideas of state and nation. On the one hand, Lionel's aesthetic nationalisti- 
cally brought the two together. On the other, it provided the very reason he resisted 
state domination, and separated state from nation. It made the materials, characters 
and artistic skills that are associated with making North American Indian Carnival 
costumes forms of meaning and power that could contest authority based on patron- 
age, legislation, bureaucratic power and facilitation of market imperatives. 

Food, Family, Art and God • 169 

At the meeting, disagreement ended with the Mayor telling the bandleaders to 
consider his position as a facilitator of many different stakeholders and as a politi- 
cian. He told bandleaders they had to make a sacrifice. As he put it, 'This is not about 
you. This is about San Fernando's Carnival.' A bandleader grumbled that, 'We were 
here doing our thing for twenty years for only so much profit each year and plenty 
of family and friends' free work and here he is telling us how if we don't come into 
his project we are bad people not supporting San Fernando Carnival.' When an- 
other bandleader talked about one, famous for many years in San Fernando, who had 
played mas in Port of Spain that year, the Mayor responded, 'That is because he is 
not a patriot.' He went on, 'This is a give-and-take situation. Why don't you all work 
with me? All you want is money, money, money. ' Ritually invoking ideas of sacrifice 
and duty to nation and state, Carnival participation was turned into an opportunity 
to validate the committee's authority and its assumption that Carnival's purpose was 
'to make everyone happy'. 

Carnival provides a livelihood and Lionel felt he had to negotiate prizes and 
penalties while repudiating obligations based on patronage. He welcomed state 
participation while denying legitimacy to state domination because, as artist and 
expert, he had moral authority based on what most mattered to him. Lionel (Fig- 
ure 11.4) was King of the private space of the mas camp and the public space of 
the road, and his authority was already legitimized. For its power to be legitimate, 
the Carnival Committee had to, somehow, also become a King of the Road, captur- 
ing leadership of the spirit of Carnival and not just its bureaucratic organization. In 
this context, state actors had to resort to representing themselves as if they loved 
Carnival, San Fernando and Trinidadian national culture more than bandleaders, 
and then substituting state-centred versions to manage how these were brought 

Lionel's aesthetic gave his own informal leadership a legitimacy transcending 
that of the politicians and state bureaucracy. For him, the authority associated with 
his skill in portraying aspects of Native American spirituality and cosmology had 
greater meaning and power than that associated with money, office or legislation. 
Even if he, like other bandleaders, gave in publicly to the Carnival Committee's rules 
and plans, he did not give up any sense of his own power. As his own experience 
shows, his aesthetic authority explains why points of disagreement may therefore 
remain unresolved over decades and successive governments. 

Legitimacy in Public Life 

These examples show how what matters to these individuals comes to determine the 
way they order their relationships and their sense of legitimacy in what they do. Aes- 
thetic authority justifies Merlene, Sandy, Ruqaya and Lionel's interactions and deci- 
sions because it feels right and reasonable to them, grounding them in a particular 

170 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Figure 11.4 King of the Road. 

moment and place. It is this rather than the formal authority claimed by laws, in- 
stitutions or powerful persons that determines their decisions and actions. This is 
how everyday morality is articulated in and orders public life. It is not necessarily 
just, equitable or kind, and may in turn be experienced by others as arbitrary, unfair, 
self-interested, immoral or exploitative, and as 'advantage' (of others). Nonetheless, 

Food, Family, Art and God • 171 

it is not simply individualistic, and also shows an engagement and claim on larger 
structures, institutions and norms. 

This aesthetic is therefore about more than individuals' 'tactics' (de Certeau et al. 
1998) or resistance (Scott 1990). It shows an order that makes sense and can be 
easily mobilized by women and men negotiating efficacy, leadership, legitimacy, 
reciprocity, belonging, common sense, personal style and 'correct' practice. It shapes 
how these women and men participate in public life, whether on roadsides or roads, 
in meetings in City Hall and constituency offices, in associational and national elec- 
tions, or in neighbourhoods and on job sites. Each story depicts politics from 'the 
margins' where legitimacy is being constantly refounded as people secure political, 
economic and cultural survival (Das and Poole 2004: 8). Together, they show that 
authority springs from sources as diverse as emotions, personal style, bureaucracy, 
artistry and gender. It is cast and recast by women's and men's gender relations, 
survival needs, leaders' influence or beliefs in God. The things that matter most 
to women and men in one space are expressed through different relations in an- 
other, but circle constantly to return to the value of family, reciprocity, fairness and 

Drawing on the work of Yael Navaro- Yashin (2002) on Turkey and Lisa Doug- 
lass (1992) on Jamaica, I want to especially highlight affect or sentiment as 'forms 
of both power and meaning' (Douglass 1992: 3). 11 Writing of Jamaica, Douglass 
defines sentiment as 'historically derived and culturally meaningful embodied expe- 
rience' (1992: 18). It has meaning in terms of love, loyalty, unity and distinction. It 
is related to power because of the ways it legitimizes social hierarchy. Yet, more fun- 
damentally, it is both powerful and a source of power in its own right because of the 
cultural meanings invested in it. Douglass's approach is useful for moving beyond 
sentiment as simply sociological construct (Lutz and Abu-Lughod 1990), sphere of 
meaning (Rosaldo 1980), ideological practice (Lutz 1988), methodological lens (Ro- 
saldo 1989) or instrumental tool for material gain (Medick and Sabean 1988). Like 
Navaro -Yashin, Douglass is concerned that an emphasis on ideas, consciously ar- 
ticulated discourses and ideologies misses why women and men really do things and 
misreads the frequent disjuncture between thought and action. As Douglass writes, 

Ideology, when considered only as a type of cognition or consciousness (or its lack), fails 
to detect the moral content, the emotional effects, and the appraisal of values involved 
in social life. In social processes, including ideological processes, thought, practice, and 
sentiment come into play . . . They do so in ways that may be either mutually reinforcing 
or contradictory. Sentiment may reinforce or disengage the hegemonic power of ideas 
and practices. (1992: 20) 

Strikingly, both Navaro- Yashin and Douglass reach similar conclusions about 
what Douglass calls 'ruling sentiments' (1992: 20). Conscious deconstruction of ma- 
terial and ideological power 'may not be enough to change practices or to transcend 

172 • Anthropology and the Individual 

the moral power of sentiment', writes Douglass (1992: 21). Rather, we should ac- 
knowledge that various forms of affect have hegemonic power because they are 
'meaningful and of value in their own right' (1992: 21). This suggests that we should 
attend to the meaning and value that different groups of women and men attribute 
to various forms of sentiment. The emotions that they signal, such as love, empathy 
and feelings of togetherness as well as disappointment, frustration and fear, are seen 
as expressions of and ways of engaging moral and political power. 

Like sentiment, sources of power such as need, God, culture, institutional clout or 
'who you know' are hierarchically organized. Firstly, this is because women and men 
of various groups have differential and unequal access to them. Secondly, this hierar- 
chy reflects the greater or lesser degree of authority associated with different kinds of 
power. In other words, like gender or class, these powers mark social stratification. 
These differences in access in turn influence the extent to which the legitimacies they 
offer are accepted or seen as reasonable. But while they are hierarchically ordered 
they cannot be reduced to a single dimension such as class. As Douglass puts it, 'A 
person's ideology is not determined by class position alone, for within every class 
there are other status differences and many varieties of experience' (1992: 18). The 
hierarchical register of authority itself is not stable. 

Institutions may even have different amounts of legitimacy depending on the 
situation. For example, the Carnival Committee has to rely on the more democra- 
tized and general 'love for mas' to justify its authority. Females in the mosque may 
go up to the level of Quranic interpretation in order to challenge institutionalized 
male authority. Even the Prime Minister may have to be a 'true true Trini' (Eriksen 
1992) in one instance, but not another. What can be done with this legitimacy, how 
it can be made to matter and even where it is on the hierarchy are all negotiated 
and shifting constantly. These stories show how individuals claim all forms of le- 
gitimacy, even those seen to belong properly to the state, regardless of their status 
or resources. 


As single snapshots, these examples highlight different aesthetic orders in practice. 
They don't pursue when or how these same individuals might mobilize completely 
different aesthetics or engage their own aesthetics in completely diverging processes 
and the effect such shifting may have on legitimate authority, the state and public 
life. Lionel's aesthetic may be reshaped by his religion or fatherhood and Ruqaya's 
sense of moral balance may be changed by her participation in national politics. Yet, 
the aim here has been to show the homologous ways that a habitus may be lived 
across diverse circumstances, and its impact on order. It has also been to avoid an 
over-reliance on both individualistic and structural explanations, while leaving room 
for the varying influences that may adapt and alter what most matters. 

Food, Family, Art and God • 173 

Primarily, these four ethnographic examples of encounters between people and 
others, institutions, ideas and spaces show how women and men mobilize an aes- 
thetic that gives them a sense of individual authority that can stand up to and mediate 
formal structures of authority. It further illustrates how their own individual cosmol- 
ogies and order-making practices also shape and order state bureaucracies, gendered 
leadership, law enforcement, democracy and patronage. Ethnographic attention to 
particular and individual lives alerts one to the degree that a habitus coalesces around 
an individual's socialization and disposition, which is not quite the same as the larger 
social dispositions. This perspective enables us to navigate between claiming either a 
governing habitus or disorder and anomie, and to see the analogous ways that author- 
ity is deployed to order aspects of an individual's life, and between individuals and 
others, things and spaces. 

The chapter therefore focuses on the significance of 'aesthetic authority' to how 
women and men make sense of and order their lives. From this angle, normativity 
or ideals of order and balance can also be seen as bases for governance. This is be- 
cause aesthetic authority is lived in homologous ways by women and men situated 
all along the continuum between social life and the state. These dispositions may 
be lived in individually negotiated and meaningful ways, but they are also widely 
shared. As individuals make sense of their needs, ideals, experiences, expertise, feel- 
ings, leaders, art and identities, the relationships created, together, define 'political 
society' 12 (Chatterjee 2005). 

Starting with individual cosmologies highlights the contradictions and homolo- 
gies in how women and men both participate in widely shared aspects of normative 
life, and are constantly creating meaning, relationships and order in their own ways. 
The ethnographic examples show, whether in relation to individuals, leaders, bureau- 
cracies or law, aesthetic authority shapes the way that public life is ordered and made 
meaningful. A lens on individuals and aesthetic can therefore be extended to help 
explain governance in social life and the state, and legitimate authority in public life 
in San Fernando, Trinidad. 


1. Fifty-six kilometres from the capital Port of Spain, the 18 km sq city of San 
Fernando has its own pre-Columbian, colonial and post-colonial story lacing 
through the larger history of the southern Caribbean twin-island Republic of 
Trinidad and Tobago. Though first conquered by Spain, Trinidad and Tobago 
was ruled by Britain from 1797 until Independence in 1962. By the end of the 
nineteenth century, and following the abolition of African slavery in 1834, In- 
dians, Chinese, Syrians, Portuguese and others had been brought to the colony 
as labourers or migrated as traders. Census data published in 2002 give the total 
population of Trinidad and Tobago as 1,262,400 and Trinidad as 1,208,282. San 

174 • Anthropology and the Individual 

Fernando's population is now 55,419 (28,325 women and 27,094 men), and is 
larger than Port of Spain's by just over 6,000 persons (Government of Trinidad 
and Tobago Central Statistical Office 2000). Nationally, the population is self- 
designated as 37.5 per cent African, 40 per cent Indian and 20.5 percent 'mixed'. 
The city comprises about 4 per cent of the nation. 

2. The Central Market was first established in the early 1900s. The market popula- 
tion of 300 to 400 vendors is highly heterogeneous. Among other distinctions 
such as ethnicity and religion, goods sold, relation to space and days spent sell- 
ing there differentiate individuals and groups. Street vending in San Fernando in 
general has been noted since 1842 (Ottley 1971: 17). 

3. The Wharf lies at the very base of the city, and directly faces the sea front. A Pub- 
lic Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) bus system replaced its once-famous 
railway. After the railway was discontinued, bus company workers and squatters 
replaced the railway workers who once lived in houses provided at the end of the 
Railway Line. By the 1970s, with the railway gone and the decline of the Wharf 
as a port, dereliction began to set in. After amenities were discontinued in the 
early 1980s, only squatters were left living along the Line. The Railway Line road 
extends away from the Wharf and ends in a cul-de-sac after a few hundred feet. 

The nation-wide Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) aims to provide 
temporary employment to those finding it hard to secure paid employment. The 
Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP), 
established in 2002, is intended to be more than short-term employment relief. It 
aims to 'clean and beautify the environment, provide employment for unskilled 
and semi-skilled workers and develop a cadre of micro-entrepreneurship and new 
business'. Both programmes are popularly associated with patronage and to- 
gether, they employ the majority of the Railway Line residents. 

4. The San Fernando Jama Masjid (central or main community mosque) is part of 
the national, Islamic, Anjuman Sunnat Ul Jamaat Association (ASJA). Although 
Islam first came to Trinidad with enslaved Africans (Campbell 1974), by the 
middle of the nineteenth century their community presence had disappeared (Sa- 
maroo 1988). Its resurgence came with indentured Indians' arrival in 1845. Of 
the 144,000 Indians brought to Trinidad and Tobago during the indentureship pe- 
riod, approximately 23,600 were Muslim (Ali 1995: 7). The ASJA represents the 
largest group of Muslims in the country. In San Fernando, where the ASJA Jama 
Masjid is located, there are 2,822 Muslims (1,401 females and 1,421 males). 
Census data suggests that 1,457 Muslims (734 females and 723 males) belong to 
the ASJA and 1,365 belong to other Islamic groups (CSO 2000: 37-9). Approxi- 
mately 150 families currently belong to Masjid. This community is primarily 
Indo-Trinidadian and middle-strata. 

5. Mas makers are women and men who spend about half a year preparing cos- 
tumes for their Carnival 'band' or group of costumed masqueraders. There are 
hundreds of these 'mas' (masquerade) bands led by their own bandleaders who 

Food, Family, Art and God • 175 

'play' King and Queen of the Band. Mas bands may each consist of a dozen, 
hundreds or a few thousand women and men who will 'play mas' on the streets 
for the two days before the beginning of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday, 
each year. 

In Trinidad, Indian mas was observed as early as the 1840s (Cowley 1996: 36). 
Red Indian mas emerged from the Warao, aboriginal natives of Venezuela who 
traded with Trinidad until the 1920s. Playing mas does not necessarily involve 
wearing a mask but is based on wearing a costume 'based on a theme from his- 
tory, current events, films, Carnival tradition, from the imagination, or from a 
combination of these' (Crowley 1956: 194). Indian mas costumes reflect 'comic 
books, National Geographic and other magazine illustrations, and particularly 
cowboy-and-Indian movies' (Crowley 1956: 194). The Lionel Jagessar and 
Associates Fancy Indian Band and camp, where costumes are made, officially 
started in 1978. Rose and Lionel Jagessar head an Indo-Trinidadian, Hindu fam- 
ily from San Fernando with two sons and two daughters. 

6. Miller would agree with Held (1989) that contemporary economic, political and 
social life, or modernity, creates heterogeneity, dispersion and diversity. How- 
ever, his position is the opposite of Held's that theorizing about legitimate au- 
thority should be rooted in fragmentation and atomization. 

7. Emphasis in original. 

8. In the words of de Certeau et al., 'The city, in the strongest sense, is "poeticized" 
by the subject: the subject has refabricated it for his or her own use by undoing 
the constraints of the urban apparatus and, as a consumer of space, imposes his 
or her own law on the external order of the city . . . urban space becomes not only 
the object of knowledge, but the place of recognition' (1998: 13). Emphasis in 

9. Lloyd-Evans and Potter (2002: 108) state that government regulation is not as 
stringent in lower-middle income housing or rural areas or where traders provide 
a much-needed service to local residents. Enforcement is stricter near or in areas 
of high-income housing. 

10. The teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed. 

11. Emphasis in original. 

12. Chatterjee defines 'political society' as the sphere of direct encounter between 
the state and communities and individuals from 'popular' worlds (Hansen and 
Stepputat 2005: 24). These relations are constitutive of democratic politics as 'a 
constantly shifting compromise between the normative values of modernity and 
the moral assertion of popular demands' (Chatterjee 2005: 86). Within this 'pure 
polities', civil-social norms and constitutional proprieties are not certainties, sov- 
ereign power has ambiguous legitimacy, and rights and rules seem continuously 
negotiated afresh (Chatterjee 2005: 99). This concept usefully signals a way that 
irregular, illegal, informal and seemingly 'inappropriate' ways of participating in 
public life can be named and normalized. Trinidadians' claims on authority and 

176 • Anthropology and the Individual 

bases for legitimacy similarly suggest that 'proletarian conceptions' (Best 2001: 
11) and concerns grounded in labour, need, dignity and relationship form bases 
for governance. 


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Best, L. (2001), Race, Class and Ethnicity: A Caribbean Interpretation, The Third 
Annual Jagan Lecture presented at York University on March 3, 2001, Centre for 
Research on Latin America and the Caribbean Colloquia Paper. 

Billing, M. (1995), Banal Nationalism, London: Sage. 

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University Press. 

Campbell, C. (1974), 'Jonas Mohammed Bath and the Free Mandingo in Trinidad: 
The Question of Their Repatriation to Africa 1831-1838', Pan African Journal, 
7(2): 129-52. 

Chatterjee, P. (2005), 'Sovereign Violence and the Domain of the Political', in T. B. 
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the Postcolonial World, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 82-102. 

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4(3 and 4): 194-223. 

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School of American Research Press and Oxford: James Curry, 3-34. 

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Mauritius, Trinidad and Beyond, Oslo, Norway: Scandinavian University Press. 

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World, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1-38. 

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Democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Food, Family, Art and God • 177 

Johnson, K. (2002), The Soul in Iron: Origin and Development of the Steelband, 
1939-1951, PhD dissertation, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. 

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Study of Family and Kinship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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Adams, G. 46 
adoption 84, 164 
aesthetics 124-5 

aesthetic of order 3-6 

Greek house in Albania 14-15, 51, 52, 53-62 

public lite in Trinidad 18-19, 159-73 
Albania 51 

Albanian migration to Greece 52-3, 
60-1, 64-5 

Greek house in Albania 14-15, 51, 52, 
Annales school 5 
Asad, T. 34 
Austin-Broos, D. J. 79 
Australian Aboriginal people 8 

Bali 5 

Bamama people 38, 47 

bedrooms 100, 101-2 

Belgrade, migration from 115-25 

Beteille, A. 85 

Bird, C. S. 47 

blogging 92 

Boas, Franz 64 

body piercings and tattoos 9-10 

bdgolan cloth 14, 37-48 

Bourdieu, Pierre 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 35, 63, 78, 

79, 160 
brands, fake 13-14, 25-7, 29-35 
Brett-Smith, S. 38 
Britain, see London 
Byfield, J. 139 

Calvert, Karen 100 
carnival 162, 168-9, 174-5 
Carsten, J. 52 
celebrations 133-42 
cell phones 70-4, 81 
Chevalier, S. 91 


adoption 84, 164 

Jamaica 77 

Madrid 84 

Serbian migration and mother-child 
relationships 16-17, 115-25 
Christian Pentecostalism 15, 69-74, 78, 79 
class 5 
cloth and clothing 10, 37 

bdgolan cloth 14, 37-48 

fake brands 13-14, 25-7, 29-35 

Madrid 90-1 

poverty and 69 

Yoruba women in London 131-42 
communist system in Cuba 18, 145-56 
computers 8 

digital networks 16, 99-110 

photography and 91-2 
consumption in Cuba 148-9 

bdgolan cloth 14, 37-48 

fake brands 13-14, 25-7, 29-35 
creativity 91-2 

creating order through struggle 18, 145-56 
culture 3, 12-13 

bdgolan cloth 14, 37-48 

networked public culture 100-1 

space-culture isomorphism 51-2 


destruction of possessions of dead people 8 
design and decoration 37 

bdgolan cloth 14, 37-48 
destruction of possessions of dead people 8 
digitization 8 

networks 16, 99-110 

photography 91-2 
distinction 5 


180 • Index 

Dogbe, E. 131 
Douglass, Lisa 161, 171 
drinking groups 13 
dualism 5 

Durham, D. 135, 136 
dyes 38, 41 
Dzokoto, V. A. 46 


Cuba 150 

Islamic religious education 27 
Elias, N. 95 
email 8 

fake brands in Istanbul bazaar 13-14, 
25-7, 29-35 

Madrid 83, 84 

markets in Trinidad 159, 161, 162-4, 174 

taxi drivers 15, 74-8, 79, 81 
ethnography 11-12 

Facebook 16, 99, 100, 105-7, 108 
fake brands 13-14, 25-7, 29-35 

creating order through struggle in Cuba 
18, 145-56 

Madrid 83-96 

Serbian migration and mother-child 
relationships 16-17, 115-25 

Turkey 27 

unemployment and family life in 
Trinidad 161-6 
fate 90 

Ferguson, J. 51 
France 5, 7 
furniture in Greek house in Albania 53-6 

Geertz, Clifford 5 
GelLA. 37, 52, 79, 124 
gifts 141 

globalization 146-7 
Goffman, Erving 107, 110 
Greece 51 

Albanian migration to 52-3, 60-1, 

Greek house in Albania 14-15, 51, 52, 
Grosz-Ngate, M. 47, 48 

Gupta, A. 51 
Guyer, J. I. 132 

habitus 4, 35, 63 
Harris, H. 132 
Henare, A. 10 
Hendrickson, H. 131 
Hockey, J. 12 
holism 5 

bedrooms 100, 101-2 

Greek house in Albania 14-15, 51, 52, 53-62 

internal organization of space 4 

Madrid 84, 87-90 
Hoxha, Enver 65 
Hugh- Jones, S. 52 

inalienability 9, 10 
individualism 3 

digital networks and 99, 107-10 

Jamaica 79-80 

Madrid 83, 85-6, 92-6 
innovation 40, 48 
interviews 12 

religious education 27 

Trinidad 161, 166-8, 174 
Istanbul bazaar, fake brands in 13-14, 

25-7, 29-35 
Ito, M. 100 

Jamaica 171 

individualism in 79-80 

mobile phones 70-4, 81 

Pentecostalism 15, 69-74, 78, 79 

taxi drivers 15, 74-8, 79, 81 
James, D. 132 
Joseph, S. 27 

Kabyle people 4, 5, 7, 35, 52, 63 
Kandiyoti, D. 27 
Kendall, M. B. 47 
Krauss, Rosalind 39, 40 
Kuchler, S. 37 
Kula ring 10, 41 

Lefebvre, H. 51 
Levi-Strauss, Claude 5 

Index • 181 

liberalism 6 

Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio 155 
London 4, 6-11, 80 

Serbian migration to 16-17, 115-25 

Yoruba women in 131-42 

Madrid 16, 80, 83-5 

clothing 90-1 

houses/apartments 84, 87-90 

individualism 83, 85-6, 92-6 

bbgblan cloth 14, 37-48 
Malinowski, B. 10, 41 
manners 86-90 
Maori people 10 

fake brands in Istanbul bazaar 13-14, 
25-7, 29-35 

fashioning individuality among Yoruba 
women in London 131-42 

Trinidad 159, 161, 162-4, 174 
masculinity 146 

Jamaica 77 

Turkey 27, 28 
microcosm 5 
migration 146-7 

Albanian migration to Greece 52-3, 
60-1, 64-5 

from Serbia 16-17, 115-25 
military 28 
Miller, Hugh 107 
mobile phones 70-4, 81 
money spraying 139-40 
Morris, Brian 154 
Myers, Fred 8 
MySpace 16, 99, 100, 102-5, 108, 109 

Navaro- Yashin, Yael 161, 171 
networks, see social networks 

objects 4, 123 

bogdlan cloth 14, 37-48 

destruction of possessions of dead people I 

digital objects 8 

fake brands 13-14, 25-7, 29-35 

gifts 141 

inalienability 10 

mobile phones 70-4, 81 


aesthetic of 3-6 

creating order through struggle in Cuba 18, 
Oyetade, A. 131, 132 
Oyewumi, O. 132 

Parrott, Fiona 6 

participant observation 12 

parties 133-42 

patriarchy 27 

Pentecostalism 15, 69-74, 78, 79 

photography 91-2 

police 162-4 

post-modernism 6 


Cuba 149, 150, 156 

Jamaica 69-70 
prostitution in Cuba 152-3 

rebelliousness 27-9, 33, 34 
relational self 46-8 

Islamic, see Islam 

Pentecostalism 15, 69-74, 78, 79 
Richmond, T. 100 
routines in Madrid 87-90 
Rowlands, M. 123 
Russell, A. 100 

self-creation 26, 33, 34-5 

selfhood 21 

Serbia, migration from 16-17, 

sexuality 9 

clothing and 91 

prostitution in Cuba 152-3 
Shaw, R. 46 
smuggling 28-9 
social networks 

social network sites 16, 99-110 

socialization 4, 86-90 

unemployment and family life in 
Trinidad 161-6 

Yoruba women in London 131-42 
socialist system in Cuba 18, 145-56 
society 3 
space-culture isomorphism 51-2 

182 • Index 

Spain, see Madrid 
spraying 139-40 
Stafford, B. M. 37 
Strathern, M. 14, 17, 124, 125 
struggle, creating order through 18, 

taste 5, 90-2 
tattoos 9-10 

taxi drivers 15, 74-8, 79, 81 
theory 12 
Tilley, C. 51 

Tocqueville, Alexis de 85 
tourism 147 
transnationalism 63 

Greek house in Albania 14-15, 51, 52, 

aesthetic authority in public life 18-19, 
Trobriand Islanders 10 

fake brands in Istanbul bazaar 13-14, 
25-7, 29-35 

military 28 

religious education in 27 
Tuters, M. 100 

unemployment in Trinidad 161-6, 174 
United Kingdom, see London 
United States of America 

Cuban migration to 147 

digital networks 16, 99-110 

Washburn, D. 37 
Weiner, Annette 10, 155 

creating order through struggle in Cuba 
18, 145-56 

Jamaica 77 

Serbian migration and mother-child 
relationships 16-17, 115-25 

Trinidad 161, 162-8 

Yoruba women in London 131^12 

Yan, Yunxiang 156 

Yoruba women in London 131-42 

Yurchak, Alexei 155